The pottery wheels weren’t the only thing spinning in Jake Johnson’s life. He’d been “always on the move,” from Illinois to Pennsylvania, from outdoor art fairs to new gallery placements. But several years ago, Jake and his wife Katie decided to make Waynesboro their home. Today, Make Waynesboro is not only their new business, but also a first stop in their journey of “doing the things we had always dreamed of” amidst the shuffle of the days before.
A Collaborative Couple
Jake and Katie together form the founders team and backbone of Make Waynesboro. She provides the financial management, business development planning, scheduling, and administrative oversight. Jake is the devoted artist, a ceramicist by training and by practice, with a gallery presence that stretches from Chicago, IL to Raleigh, NC. They share a dedication to teaching, her through her work at the University of Virginia and him as a mentor and supporter of evolving artists.
When it comes to throwing pots, Jake is clear about the importance of support and community. “Learning to throw is hard. The absolutely hardest part is the part you have to learn first — centering the clay. You could read 20 books and receive an art degree, but until you’ve put your hands on the clay and done it, it won’t work.”
While his accomplishments as an artist are extensive, Jake is clear that the Make Waynesboro space is not about him. Amidst the stacks and and shelves of ready-to-fire pots, none are his. This is a community space for learning and is explicitly not the home of production potters. The mission of Make Waynesboro is to provide an affordable studio for students, beginning artists, and hobbyists to learn their trade. “Our goal is to have a space for people to learn, have fun, and to practice,” says Jake. “I once got started because of places like this. It feels good to be able to give that back.”
A Space for Many
Make Waynesboro operates on a membership model. $50/month enables members to access the wheels and clay any hour of the day. Bisque firing is free, but glazing material and final firings are paid for based on the volume of production. Part of what this structure enables is unlimited “play” — shaping and reshaping of clay — while still maintaining options for end-to-end production. For those just beginning to understand clay, classes for both adults and children are offered throughout the year.
Situated in the South River Complex, Make Waynesboro is a neighbor to a strong heritage of Waynesboro makers, artisans who have found homes in the City’s former industrial buildings. Glassblowers, blacksmiths, steeple builders, and more share space in the complex. Just blocks away in downtown Waynesboro, the Shenandoah Valley Art Center refers local artists to Make Waynesboro, where their emerging partnership allows art center members discounts for ceramics classes. Together, they constitute the growing artisan community of Waynesboro.
Advice from the Heart
Jake’s business advice reads like his artistic advice: Take everything one step at a time. Learn persistence. Be aware of the possibility of failure, but don’t be afraid of it.
“My first art show earned me enough money to buy a dolly,” he says. “After the next one, I bought a tent. Then some shelves. This,” he waves his hands around the Make Waynesboro studio, “this is an accumulation of all that.” He reflects that only because he had gone through the long process of starting his own ceramics studio, of working many years to learn the clay, is it now possible for him to open a community space like Make Waynesboro.
Jake is both serious and playful about his commitment to community, inclusiveness, and art. His final bit of advice he shares with a smile: get a good manager. Make Waynesboro’s manager is named Sophie. She has kind, silver eyes. She monitors all studio activities and has her own bed near the kiln. She keeps the pulse on activities and makes sure that all new visitors receive the warmest of community welcomes. Sophie, of course, is a very good dog.
For more information about Make Waynesboro’s studio, classes, and membership opportunities, check them out at www.MakeWaynesboro.com. Plus, you can always visit us at GrowWaynesboro.com/meet-them for ongoing updates on the artisans, entrepreneurs, and creative souls who are actively making and shaping Waynesboro’s local economy.