By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Dani Fisher, founder and co-owner of Clayote Studios, 8198 Spouse Drive, 610-823-3742, ClayoteStudios.Com.]
How and why did you start Clayote Studios?
I started Clayote Studios 23 years ago. I’m an artist and and an art teacher, and I’ve worked in public schools and psych hospitals. I learned what works and what doesn’t, and developed my own after-school program and teaching methods. … There are a lot of reasons to have an art program outside of the school. They’ve taken away the right in public schools to hug kids and they’re so worried about standards and testing and liability all the time. It’s hard to teach and reach out in that environment.
What’s your background and how did you end up in Prescott Valley?
I was born in Arizona. My mom does jewelry and my dad’s a carpenter, so they helped me a lot with art from a young age. I graduated from Thunderbird High School in 1992, then went to NAU, then I went back to school out east. I kept going back to school. I’m 43 and I have eight degrees. This program we’re doing has been going on for a really long time. Most of my time has been in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Mud Puppies, which is our after-school program, draws on a lot of things. Part of it’s from my crisis teaching experience. It’s therapeutic to work with clay. It’s taken me 23 years to really make this what it is today … to play with kids with art and use it as a healing, settling activity for an hour. We do breathing and focusing, too. We do everything that I’m pretty sure a teacher wishes they could do these days. There are no grades, but we do assess progress. At our shop, proper, it’s every age and ability. That’s where we can really empower people in the community. We’d done clay classes through Prescott Valley Parks and Rec 14 years ago. We had a raku kiln building behind the Civic Center. I went out to Humboldt School District and to Kirkland and Skull Valley and Prescott Schools as well. … Eventually, I moved back home to Pennsylvania and did the same thing out there. It grew and grew. … The move followed a divorce. I got remarried to someone I grew up with and had fired from the studio on three different occasions. It’s a long story, but we’ve been back in Prescott Valley for about 14 months now.
What’s going on at Clayote Studios right now?
It’s our winter lull at the moment, but we’re gearing up for a lot more in the spring. I’m 51 percent owner and Stephane is 49 percent owner. We’re both still artists and still teachers. She handles more of the website side and I handle the business side and do music. Clayote Studios is all about empowering people. There’s a lot of female energy here, now, and I think that’s changed the business a lot. When I did the business with my husband, it was an old building that looked like two spaces — a dirty studio and beautiful gallery. Now it’s more down-to-earth and homey. We do hire men and retired teachers, but it’s mostly nurturing women. We’re good at art and also good with kids. Your art matters and your eye for art matters and your knowledge of art matters. So, during the school year, we have money for our after-school program, and a lot of the focus is there. During the summer and the holidays, it’s more of a focus on self. There’s this nice lull right now and I’ve been getting back into my own art. … It’s important for us, as artists, to work on our own art. And we should be able to talk about our own art, too. It’s not just about the personality that goes with it — it’s part of your job, really. Another part of that is teaching and giving to the community.
Tell us about your art.
I do raku pottery, a Japanese pottery, with our outdoor kiln. Basically, I get to play with fire. It’s a very spiritual thing if you look at Japanese pottery. We make sure kids get exposed to parts of that. I do a lot of pottery with prints of dragonflies. I do acrylics, too, and I paint a lot of different things. I used to paint a lot and now that I’m home am getting into it more. I design pieces for a shadow box so I can use pottery with it, too. I also get to do music through Clayote Studios. We do acoustic open mics 6-9 p.m. Thursdays at Clayote Studios. Anyone, any age can come in. And we have specials on art supplies and people paint at the same time. We’ve done a “liquid courage” event at the Raven, too. I like having a space for people in P.V. who need it. … You know, we’re next to a head shop, and some people, early on, were a little funny about dropping off their kids to do art here. That first year, we were a little worried about image. But now, we don’t care about that. This is where we need to be — in the middle of P.V. We’re on a corner in a poorer neighborhood because that’s what artists do.
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Stephane Leon, co-owner of Clayote Studios, 8198 Spouse Drive, 610-823-3742, ClayoteStudios.Com.]
How did you meet Dani and get involved in Clayote Studios?
I met Dani about 11 years ago. I was actually teaching with her as an assistant for one of her Mud Puppies classes. At the time I was working at the Franklin Phonetic School and they were offering her after-school class. We got along well and I assisted her for a while. Eventually, she moved to Pennsylvania and when she came back she hit me up, proposed opening a business together, and I was ecstatic. … I’ve always loved teaching and worked at Franklin Phonetic School for about 10 years as an assistant and teacher. I love teaching and, well, I’m really good at it and connect well with the children. The idea of owning my own business is something that’s really exciting. I love working with kids and being able to do my art and teach kids how to do art is great.
Was it hard to give up your day job and try this?
It’s more exciting, but definitely less secure. It was really scared to transition from having a full-time job to owning a business, but my husband and I were financially stable enough for me to take the risk. It’s been really worth it for me. … The biggest surprise was the hours that went into learning the program to make our flyers and the website.
Tell us more about Clayote Studios. You know, nuts and bolts stuff.
It’s an open art studio. We offer painting and pottery wheels and open clay. Most of the people who come in have a really great time. It’s relaxing to play with clay and make something neat. Seeing all the artwork around is really inspiring, too. … We do walk-ins during open hours. That’s usually 3:30-6 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 11 a.m.-6 p.m Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays; and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. If you just want to work with clay, that’s $20-$25. That covers a big lump of clay and some instruction, and that’s for all ages and all abilities. We’ve got some food-safe, high-fire glazes, which cost an extra $5, too. The youngest we’ve had on the wheel is 3 years old. We’ve had people in who have tactile difficulties, and we’ve got people on staff who have experience working with the differently abled, whether that’s physically or mentally. Actually, we have groups from local nonprofits come in all the time. So, yeah, we’ve had people of all ages and abilities; there have been parents with kids; there have been couples out on dates; we’ve had birthday parties; we’ve had adult parties, too. We also offer painting lessons for $20. That includes a 15” x 20” canvas and use of all paints and brushes, plus two hours with instruction. You can bring in your own materials, too.
How has running Clayote Studios affected your own art?
I feel like I’ve grown and learned through teaching other people how to do clay and art. On my own, art was never the focus like this for me before. Now, it’s fun to occasionally just paint a picture if I feel like painting a picture. Still, things are focused on the clientele. … I’ve fine-tuned my own painting techniques through teaching others how to do them. The other day I was working with my favorite student, a young boy, about 11 years old, who I’d been working with for several weeks and he finished a painting he’d been working on and he was so proud of himself. I almost cried. That’s the thing I love about working at Clayote Studios. … As far as my own art goes, it’s very whimsical and silly, very cartoony. People say it’s perfect for a children’s room and I’m inclined to agree.
What’s in store for Clayote Studios in 2018?
We’ll be doing a lot of the same things, offering a pottery wheel, clay, and painting classes, and trying to secure more events in the community. There’ll be a sculpture class, some watercolor, some life drawing, and various other classes through local artists who want to come in and teach. This space is really anything you think of. We really encourage people to stop by and check it out.
Visit Clayote Studios at 8198 Spouse Drive, 610-823-3742, ClayoteStudios.Com.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.