Ted and Anna Norris had a dream when they retired – they wanted to run a full-service pottery studio.
In December 2018, that dream became a reality when they opened their studio, Norris Arts, in Camas. Today, the business offers classes for all skill levels, an open studio space and kiln fire services for potters with home studios. They also offer monthly wheel rentals and onsite, they have a retail shop that features ceramics created in-studio by local Camas potters and ceramicists. Commissions are also accepted, and they have worked with several local eateries and shops, for everything including beer mugs, soap dishes, pasta bowls and more.
Anna Norris said that when they first started the business, they relied solely on word-of-mouth referrals. It took about a full year to get going, but more and more people learned about the business, and they built a loyal following. Soon, they had about 100 potters coming through on a weekly basis, and they were booked out sometimes two or three months in advance.
“It was hard work and a constant education,” she said. “Both of us had worked in health care settings previously, so learning the nuances of clay studios was new territory. We learned how to manage large groups, streamline processes, move equipment to improve workflow, the ins and outs of clay management. Clay is like having small children. It needs constant attention, can be demanding and picky. You cannot leave it.”
When the pandemic began, Ted and Anna had to learn to adjust their business operations quickly. They began selling or renting out their pottery wheels, sold clay and glazes for home-based projects, and created a lot of backlogged commission pottery and paintings for local vendors.
“The number one comment we heard was that clay was therapy for people during this time,” Anna said.
Today, business has steadily increased, but so have the prices for supplies. They have had to make some price adjustments to account for that, but people are loving the smaller class sizes at Norris Arts, which means more individualized attention and better flow in the studio. This year, they added their first employee, a full-time studio assistant.
Looking at the future, Norris Arts has growth in mind. They are considering opening a second location that would focus on the open studio concept and membership potters, which would be available exclusively for experienced, self-directed potters. They are also in the process of developing workshops and classes that share specialized techniques within the community. The workshops will eventually be opened to the public.
“A direct outcome of COVID is the uptick of people looking for new experiences,” Anna said. “They don’t want to buy pottery, they want to make their own … most of our potters mention how clay/pottery is their therapy. You need to get out of your head and focus on the wheel in front of you. We have created a solid community based around clay.”
Norris Arts is located at 1605 NW 6th Ave., Suite D, in Camas.