By Lynn Woods
Whether you’re a ceramist looking for a studio space complete with wheel and kiln, want to take a ceramics class, or think your child would enjoy playing with clay on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll love Kingston Ceramics Studio, which is conveniently located in the heart of Midtown. Motivated by her love of ceramics, passion for teaching and extensive experience running ceramics studios as well as a community arts center, Alexis Feldheim opened Kingston Ceramics Studio last May in The Shirt Factory. The studio has succeeded beyond Feldheim’s wildest dreams, and in early April, she’ll be expanding into a 1,500-square-foot space, double the size of her current loft. The number of potter’s wheels will nearly double, from five to nine, increasing her capacity, and for the first time, Feldheim will have a dedicated space for making her own work.
Feldheim, who grew up in Westchester County and Brooklyn, lives with her husband, an electrician, in Uptown Kingston. Lynn Woods recently interviewed her by phone.
Lynn Woods: When did you start making ceramics?
Alexis Feldheim: I was working as a special education middle school teacher when I took a ceramics class in Brooklyn. I was still teaching when I moved up here and took classes at Women’s Studio Workshop.
LW: How did you make the switch from full-time teaching to running your own ceramics center?
AF: I wanted to do something more creative for myself, but I was afraid of pursuing ceramics. As a compromise, I went to Dutchess Community College and got a commercial art degree in graphic design. I took classes at the ceramics studio on the side and accepted a job there as a studio technician. I then earned a BFA in ceramics at SUNY New Paltz, graduating in 2008, which was not the best time. I took a job tutoring online, was making things out of my apartment, and taking classes at Hudson Valley Pottery, in Rhinebeck.
After the owner decided to close, the person who bought the business hired me as studio manager. I then became director of a new community art center in Poughkeepsie called Art Centro, which was part of the Mid Hudson Heritage Center. I ran that for three years before deciding I could do this for myself.
LW: Was it difficult opening your own business? What steps did you take?
AF: The first step was making a business plan, which I did with the help of SCORE, an organization of retired businesspeople who consult for free. My husband and I had saved money for a house, but we never found the right one—plus I felt very isolated making work in our apartment. So I decided to use the money for my business instead and spent eight months searching for a location. When I finally found a spot in The Shirt Factory, I hit the ground running.
LW: You offer a menu of services at your ceramics studio. How did you come up with the idea to be so diversified?
AF: I wanted to remove barriers for people, the biggest of which are money and time, so I decided to sell passes to six classes, which enabled people to reserve space at their convenience. A lot of studios sell six to eight classes and include open studio time, but it’s expensive, so my idea was to be more a la carte. You can purchase a membership for the open studio for $150 a month, and there are discounts for students who want to do open studio time.
LW: What kind of response have you gotten?
AF: It’s been tremendous. There’s a good mix of men and women and the ages vary, from 16 to 85. I also offer kids’ programming, birthday parties and private lessons.
I get a lot of feedback from people who are stone cold beginners and are nervous coming into a space where everyone knows more. Once they get here, it’s warm and welcoming and nonjudgmental. I’ve decided to offer beginner clinics, where you can get your feet wet and get the basics down, and also want to offer more in-depth workshops.
LW: What advice would you give to someone thinking of opening her own business?
AF: Be conservative. Definitely consult with an expert. SCORE helped me avoid four or five big mistakes, and they helped with the tax situation. You have to find the right space. Also, I was really lucky to have a husband and mom who wanted me to do this and didn’t doubt me. It’s also important that your financial situation is stable. Back-end finances in a small business can often be a mess; I got on Quickbooks online from day one.
LW: You moved to Uptown Kingston in 2010, after living in New Paltz and Rosendale. What do you like about Kingston?
AF: Having grown up in a city, I am definitely a city girl. I used to joke, ‘Kingston is just barely enough of a city,’ but I’ve come to love Kingston, and now there’s so much more going on here. I love walking to the post office, restaurants, and stores and taking my dog to the dog park at Kingston Point. I have the best of both worlds. One thing I would love to see is more walkability between Uptown and the Rondout. I can walk to my studio, but the traffic is pretty aggressive.
LW: What is your future goal?
AF: While I have always wished to do my own work, I realize how important the community and teaching aspect is to me. I love teaching and interacting with students and seeing them learn. I get to see their joy and growth, which is so rewarding. However, once the new studio is set up and rolling, I’m going to focus on my own work and getting it out there.
Kingston Ceramics Studio
The Shirt Factory
77 Cornell Street, Suite 305
Kingston NY 12401
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