Some will say there's nothing more satisfying or therapeutic than getting your hands dirty with clay and molding a beautiful creation. That's what people have been doing at Brooklyn Clay Industries' for 26 years.
Brooklyn Clay Industries' owner Reuben King has been in the pottery-making business since he was a young lad growing up in Dominica, where pottery-making was a time-honored tradition.
"My very first experience creating with clay was very transformative. I decided then and there that I wanted to use the medium for creating," says King.
After high school, he entered a two-year certificate program that taught him to sculpt with clay.
King started his creative journey at 15 and at a small local pottery and craft institution designed to teach traditional creative skills to young people in my community. "I joined that program and was exposed to the only pottery production studio left in the country at the time. There was a tradition of pottery making in my community that provided vessels for heating, cooking, water storage, and cooling. But much of that ended as the country and community became modernized and the tradition faded before I was able to fully appreciate it," he says.
But despite this King had found a love -- creating ceramics. After graduating from the arts and crafts program, he helped establish a creative and production cooperative called Marinica. King became the studio potter and manager for Marinica for about two years.
"During that time one of our primary markets was the tourism sector. We created vessels and sculptures that incorporated and reflected the cultural emblems of Dominica. We also had much local support," says King.
King went on to continue his studies at art and design colleges in Kingston, Jamaica, and then in Naples and Florence, Italy.
"Being able to continue my art education was crucial to my creativity and my career. The exposure was highly inspiring and informative. I learned new design techniques and new ways of incorporating my design ideas into my work," King says.
Traveling opened up new worlds creatively.
"While in Jamaica I was able to develop new relationships with other Caribbean creators. The same is true about my experience studying in Italy. I was able to build some very invaluable friendships with many artists from Africa, Europe, and the Americas, ceramic artists from Mexico and Brazil," he remembers.
King adds, "The experience of studying Italian in Naples and ceramic design in Florence was also invaluable. Being able to study the works of the renaissance masters up close with full free access to all Italian national galleries and museums, thanks to the Italian government, was second to no other creative experience I’ve had thus far. I learned many things at the State Institute of Art in Florence. Toured many historic sites, and ceramic studios, and factories. I lived blocks away from El Duomo, and other historic sites. I can go on and on."
King arrived in the U.S. in 1985 and in 1995 he had opened his own ceramics studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He called it Brooklyn Clay Industries.
“I’ve always liked the idea of being self-employed and it was my vision for a long time. Most artists/creatives always strive for his/her own workspace. Which I was able to accomplish very quickly on a smaller scale a few months after my arrival in NYC, by finding a job at a ceramic supply store and purchasing my first new potter's wheel. I set up my personal studio at the BARNYARD because of their business incubator program. My friend and studio-mate sculptor Noel Copeland and I moved in together and are still sharing today 25 years later,” King spoke about his initial arrival in New York before turning to entrepreneurship.
"Before moving to the Yard, I set up one of the first shared pottery spaces on Hope St. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But I was forced to close that location because my landlord fell through on needed building repairs." He then went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he has since remained.
His business has attracted artisans and people just interested in trying pottery making. On that end, King offers a number of workshops for brand-new beginners and those with experience.
There's the "BYOB Intro to Pottery Wheel" class, their 10-week program, a Pottery Date Night for couples, as well as a master class. Brooklyn Clay Industries also has open studio hours.
During open studio times, people with some experience working with clay are welcome to come in to create on their own. Brooklyn Clay Industries, which also sells wares, is open to the public six days of every week and also provide firing services to those creatives making Clayworks at home.
Now more than two decades after opening, Brooklyn Clay Industries has proven its staying power, “I was able to maintain my studio for this much time because of the affordability of the space, my determination, and dedication to my craft, and the support of my friend and studio-mate," shares King, who also taught art and pottery/ceramics around the city in all five boroughs for NYC housing authority and other institutions.
King also sold his creations to retailers like An American Craftsman and a few out-of-state gift shops before it was popular to do so online.
"About seven years ago, I decided to re-invent my studio, wrote a business plan to convert the space into a teaching studio in addition to my creative work and production," says King.
Even during the pandemic, the pottery wheel at Brooklyn Clay Industries was still spinning for a majority of the time.
"We were shocked by the big reveal that NYC was the epicenter of the pandemic at the end of March 2020. We were in the midst of another great winter/spring semester of classes, and workshops, always full to capacity but never registered a case of covid-19," he says.
Brooklyn Clay Industries did shut down for two months.
"We closed for two months and returned at the beginning of June of 2020 at about 60 percent capacity. We’ve been open since. Strictly following CDC and city and state guidelines to keep our guests and ourselves safe. Masks are required at all times.”
As we move to the end of 2021, there's more to come at Brooklyn Clay Industries.
“We’re about to relaunch our website, offering new options like instant gift certificates, with ease of use in scheduling and registration, etc.," shares King. "We’re also starting a new 12-week session for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels for people seeking to build their pottery making and creative skills at the beginning of September. Our one-time pottery wheel classes are ongoing, especially our popular Friday night BYOB date night. Singles are also welcome.
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