Summer storms destroyed this Kansas City artist's kiln with a tree — 'that's a loss to everybody'
A 45-foot hackberry tree crushed Rebecca Koop's outdoor kiln and left her without power for the foreseeable future. With no way to fire ceramics, Koop's community classes will stop, as will her primary source of income.
After a stormy Saturday selling ceramic bowls, pitchers, and teapots at the PeaceWorks Art Fair about a week ago, Rebecca Koop came back to her ceramic studio in the Historic Northeast neighborhood to discover a 45-foot-tall hackberry tree sprawled across the patio where she holds raku firing classes during the fall and spring.
Strong winds had felled the tree during a string of storms that swept through the metro Sept. 23.
"I didn't find out about the the storm damage until I got back to my studio,” Koop said. “When I looked outside, all I saw was a tree laying across all the asphalt."
The tree crushed her outdoor kiln, destroyed the sheet metal shed that covered it, and damaged her fence and access gate. Two electric service masts that powered her studio were also knocked down.
"I had to pick up my jaw and think, ‘Oh my gosh, the tree finally came down,’" she remembered.
Koop's studio and adjacent community garden is an oasis on St. John Avenue, where neighbors could take classes and plant vegetables. And the storm damage has wider implications for her business. Without electricity, the lights of Koop's studio will remain off, and she can't fire her electric kilns.
"There's this whole checklist of things to go through when, you know, you have damage like that," Koop said. "You’ve got to keep your art business running and at the same time do your day job."
Koop, who works four days a week as the events director at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and plans events for Northeast Arts KC. She also coordinates some 50 arts events in the her corner of the metro each year.
Koop started Back Door Pottery in 1979, shortly after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute. She’s been in the building, on St. John Avenue, for almost four decades, and created a 450-square-foot tile mosaic that now covers its façade over the course of several summers. She unveiled it on Earth Day in 2021.
In 2006, when the vacant lot next to her studio became an eyesore, she bought it and transformed it into a community space featuring 40 garden beds.
A busy summer for Koop
When Koop isn't working on her own artwork, she teaches people in the neighborhood how to work with clay. She's also been writing grants, organizing the Northeast's annual Chalk Walk and the Summer Dusk outdoor concert series.
After collaborating with Koop on several projects, Evie Craig, executive director of the Arts Asylum, nominated Koop for the Downtown Council's Urban Hero Award in April. Craig said Koop is always in the background making sure the hard work gets done.
"It's hard for her to have a step backwards at this time of year, so it's really critical that all of us pitch in to show our gratitude, our respect for, and our support of Rebecca," Craig said. "I don't want her to miss a beat — I don't want to miss even half a beat — because that's a loss to everybody."
Koop was able to hire a team to remove the tree on Thursday, and had a chance to assess the damage.
A large pile of bricks is all that remains of her kiln. Some of the bricks can be salvaged, but many are broken.
"They're not mortared, they're hard brick and I can restack it," Koop said. "But I don't know how many of them are broken and I might have to replace those, and I'll definitely have to replace the shelving that was in there."
High-density brick for kilns can run about $10-15 each, and the silica-carbide shelves inside it cost about $50 a piece. Her shed is a total loss.
But Koop remains resilient.
"I can repair stuff. I can rebuild kilns," Koop said.
Until Koop replaces the two electric masts, she can't work and she can't hold ceramics class. She's spent the last week texting students to let them know classes and workshops are cancelled for the foreseeable future.
People have stepped in to help Koop, including her colleagues at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, who set up a GoFundMe to help her make repairs. On Sunday, several friends stopped by to dismantle the shed and take apart the remains of the kiln.
"At the moment, I really don't know how much inventory I have to play with,” Koop said. “But — I tell you — I will throw a kiln building party and I may even burn some of that tree."
"I can burn the tree and dance on its little grave," she said.