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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Explore Kansas City's ceramics scene with these pottery classes and artisan shops

Ceramic artist Irma Starr in her studio preparing a large decorated pot.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Ceramic artist Irma Starr in her studio.

Kansas City has a vibrant community of potters and ceramic artists. There are also plenty of opportunities for those who want to learn the craft, with classes across the metro available for all skill levels and all ages.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “pottery” is the infamous Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze scene from the 1990 film “Ghost,” you might be surprised to know that Kansas City has a vibrant (and corporeal) pottery scene of its own.

Evelyn Craft Belger, the executive director of Belger Arts Center, once called Kansas City a “mecca” for ceramics thanks to the Kansas City Art Institute.

If your New Year’s resolution is to take up a new hobby, you might consider taking a ceramics class at one of the city’s many studios, like Belger Crane Yard Studios or EPIC Clay Studio. With their experienced instructors, you can learn wheel throwing — a method that uses a potter’s wheel to shape clay into items like bowls, mugs, or vases — or learn to make free-form sculptures and artistic creations out of clay.

Around town, you can see art by a local pottery legend, have a BYOB date night at a ceramic studio, or even buy a cute lavender ceramic bong to display on your mantelpiece.

Learn the craft

Two women work at pottery wheels in a sunlit space.
Caroline Meek
Community Housing of Wyandotte County, Inc.
A ceramic art class at EPIC Clay Studio in Kansas City, KS.

Even if you’ve never touched a potter’s wheel before, Kansas City has a number of ceramics studios that offer classes for adults and youth at both beginner and intermediate levels.

Many classes require a solid time commitment — one evening per week for four to six weeks — so you really have time to grow your skills. But most studios also offer one-off classes where you can spend an evening learning to make a specific item. Some places also offer open studio sessions where you can spend an evening making whatever you desire.

If you’re interested in a shop with a lot of history, Rebecca Koop has owned Back Door Pottery since 1979. Located in the Scarritt neighborhood of the Historic Northeast, Back Door holds regular pottery classes for beginners on Thursdays from 7–9 pm at $25 a class.

Back Door Pottery is also known for its Wood Fired Raku workshops. Raku is a technique that originated in 16th-century Japan where pieces are taken from the kiln when they are glowing red and hot. Raku only takes about 1–2 hours, while typically used methods take at least 24 hours.

These particular classes are on hiatus, however, after a September 2023 storm destroyed Koop’s wood-fired kiln. While Back Door is back to offering regular pottery classes, Koop is waiting for warmer weather to hold a kiln rebuild party.

Another mainstay in the Kansas City ceramics community is KC Clay Guild, which opened in 1988. Now located in Waldo, potter Michael Smith initially ran KCCG out of his home.

Month-long adult classes are $170 for non-members and $135 for members, and they also host “family fun nights” on Fridays and Saturdays from 6–9:30 pm, in which you can use the studio space to build at your discretion. Their classes fill up in advance, so be sure to reserve space ahead of time.

What started as EPIC Clay Studio in 2010 is now just one piece of an urban “art campus” in Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kansas. EPIC Clay caters to individuals from all experience levels and backgrounds, and they offer both hand-building and wheel-based classes.

Their classes are $100 for a month-long adult course, and Wyandotte County residents are eligible for a discount. EPIC also offers one-off weekend classes where kids can make a fun item, like a monster mask or a clay penguin.

While you are at EPIC Clay Studio, be sure to visit the United Colors gallery next door. The gallery is showing an exhibition called “Whistling Through a Blade of Grass,” which features artists Muriel Condon and Lila Shull, through Dec. 31, 2023. This show “engages scraps of memory through intimate ceramic objects, paper pulp paintings, fabric constructions, and various printmaking techniques.”

EPIC Arts is operated by the Community Housing of Wyandotte County, Inc. (CHWC), a Kansas City, Kansas, nonprofit that offers a range of services for community members, including urban farm education, bilingual housing counseling, and home repair grants.

Belger Arts, opened in 2000, is another mainstay of the Kansas City art scene that offers adult ceramics classes. Located near the Crossroads, Belger Crane Yard Studios is a 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art ceramics facility.

Their standard beginner classes start at $175, but they also offer unique intermediate options. For example, their Expressive Heads class, running from January to 8–Feb. 12, 2024, will spend six weeks teaching students to design and build a life-sized clay bust. You can also head to Belger for a date night pottery class at $100 per couple on most Friday and Saturday evenings.

A man wearing glasses, a colorful print shirt and an apron works at a pottery wheel while a woman smiles next to him.
Belger Arts
You can enjoy date night learning to make pottery at Belger Crane Yard Studios.

Driftwood Ceramics in North Kansas City opened in 2018. Their month-long studio classes cost $140 for wheel classes and $125 for hand-building classes. They also offer weeklong kid camps during spring break and summer.

On Fridays and Saturdays, they host “pots and pints” from 6–8 pm. At $40 a ticket, Driftwood offers all of the supplies and tools you need to make and glaze a ceramic item on the potter’s wheel — all you need to bring is the beer! Be sure to reserve your spot in advance.

If you are in the Independence area, you can take a class at 332Clay, which has offered ceramic arts programming since 2010. Their four-week beginner wheel classes are $130 a session. Intermediate and advanced students can learn from artist Steven Hill, who provides constructive feedback. 332Clay also offers a one-time sample class for $35 on Wednesday evenings, no experience required.

Another place to look for pottery experiences is at your local community center. Kansas City Parks and Recreation holds youth and adult ceramics classes at the Westport Roanoke Community Center. These seven-week sessions are $95 for an adult class and $70 for youth aged 6–17.

The Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department also has six-week-long adult ceramics courses (ages 16+) that cost $195 for Johnson County residents and $214 for non-residents. They also offer a one-time “date night” class, for a short ceramics lesson at $77 per couple for Johnson County residents and $85 for non-residents.

Painting pottery

 Two girls smile at the camera while painting pottery.
Creative Culture
Paint-your-own pottery and some decked-out milkshakes at Creative Culture.

For a less labor-intensive activity, you can paint some already-created pottery. Because these pieces usually need to be dried in a kiln, you will often need to return to the studio at least a week later to pick up your completed piece.

Pottery painting studios include Brookside Ceramics in the Waldo/Brookside area, Paint, Glaze & Fire Ceramics and Coffeehouses or The Ceramic Cafe in Overland Park, The Potter’s Cottage in the Northland, and Potter’s Haven Art Studio in Lee’s Summit.

At all of these places, you can paint figurines, decorative items, holiday items, or mugs and dinnerware.

You can also paint pottery at Creative Culture Studio, which has both Westport and Leawood locations. If you visit Creative Culture, you might want to make a day of it. This DIY craft studio has a range of activities including a plant bar where you can make a succulent arrangement and a milkshake bar where you can use full-sized cupcakes and cookies as milkshake toppings.

Purchasing local pottery

Three women wearing aprons smile while working around a large tables filled with ceramic making supplies.
Alyssa Broadus
Wandering Bud
Wandering Bud owner Riley Brain (center) ships hand-crafted ceramic pipes across the US and beyond from her Kansas City studio.

Perhaps you want to leave the pottery-making to the experts. Irma Starr is one of Kansas City’s most well-known ceramic artists, and her skill in a 17th-century English style of pottery called slipware has earned her commissions from the Smithsonian Institute and the White House.

Starr’s home gallery is not always open to the public, but her Annual Holiday Show on December 15–17 provided viewers an opportunity to walk through her studio and purchase one of her beloved holiday ornaments. You can keep an eye on her Facebook to catch an opportunity to see her work in person.

Three Bees Cafe is a scenic, ivy-covered shop in KCK’s Rosedale neighborhood, where you can buy colorful, hand-painted Mexican Talavera pottery. You can also buy a coffee drink with Mexican flavors like a tres leches latte or dirty horchata, or eat an authentic tamale. Three Bees is open from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday and 8–2 on Sundays.

Convivial in the West Bottoms is another locally-owned company selling handmade ceramic kitchen wares. When ceramic artist Chentell Stiritz founded the company in 2014, Convivial was a small operation. Now they distribute their simple, yet elegantly designed stoneware pottery and handcrafted vases nationwide.

Stiritz also owns Verdant in the Crossroads, where you can shop for the plant lovers in your life. The store sells handmade ceramic vases and planters, as well as other botanical-themed gifts.

For a different sort of functionality, Wandering Bud at 45th and Troost sells a variety of pastel-colored ceramic weed accessories, like their Flora bong or Nelle steamroller pipe, which they describe as “reminiscent of an art deco skyscraper.” At least on the Missouri side of the state, where recreational weed is legal, you can proudly display these hand-crafted smoking accessories in your home.

Owner Riley Brain has been selling pipes since 2016, and the company now employs a team of artists and ships its products internationally. In Kansas City, you can purchase their goods in-house at their shop. Keep an eye out for their annual sale in May, which has seen crowds line up down the block to purchase surplus stock or slightly imperfect items at a discounted rate.

Jack and Julie Bond have sold handmade ceramic wares at Archival Designs since 2001. You can find their mugs, decorations, and unique kitchen products around town at various Made in KC Marketplaces. They also create custom ceramic tiling at their studio at 31st and Charlotte, and their colorful tiles can transform a kitchen or bathroom into a unique work of art.

Belger Arts has ceramic art available for purchase at their annual Holidays at the Belger Crane Yard Gallery exhibition. Through December 30, you can view and buy work from ceramic artists from across the US. The artworks vary in price, and some are functional pieces like earrings, while other items are decorative pieces.

At The Object Enthusiast in the Crossroads, ceramic artist Emily Reinhardt sells handmade ceramic home goods, like black and white striped dinner plates and tableware, in addition to other colorful pieces of pottery and jewelry.

Audrey Jean Ceramics makes functional pieces like tumblers, ramekin dishes, and matcha bowls in elegant earth tones. You can find her pieces at several local stores, like SOAP Refill Station in Waldo, The 12th Street Post in the West Bottoms, or Haven Wellness + Spa in Overland Park.

Crown & Heart makes colorful ceramic jewelry, including decked-out statement earrings with tassels, jewels, and kiln-fired ceramic accents. Artist Sara Kharatyan sells Crown & Heart jewelry at Shop Local KC, which has locations in Brookside, Crown Center, and Leawood.

There are also locally-owned stores online where you can buy pottery from local artists. Kansas City Urban Potters closed their brick-and-mortar store in 2022, but you can still buy handmade pieces from a group of professional artists on their website.

Cerbera Gallery in the Crossroads is a gallery space that occasionally has ceramic art on exhibition, and sells functional and sculptural ceramic works on their website.

Hannah Bailey is a cultural studies scholar and a freelance writer for KCUR. You can email her at hannah@coneflower.org.
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