KellySue Robinson wants to bring art to the masses with her new studio in Maple Valley.
Robinson, who lives in Maple Valley, opened Clayopatra Arts Studio July 15 in a building just off Maple Valley Highway.
Originally from Punxsatawney, Penn., she moved to Maple Valley six years ago with her husband, John Robinson, and their children. Along the way she lived in Montana and Illinois.
Her first foray into clay was years ago.
“When I was living in Illinois I had two small kids at home and my husband traveled a lot,” Robinson said. “I was about ready to lose it. My husband saw that I was about to lose it, signed me up for a pottery class remembering that one time I said I wanted to try it when I had time. I loved it.”
When her family settled in Maple Valley Robinson discovered there wasn’t anything in the area similar to what she had done in Illinois.
Then she was connected with the art docent program at Rock Creek Elementary.
At that point the only thing Robinson didn’t know how to do with clay was fire it in a kiln. At Rock Creek she learned how to do it without blowing anything up. She also learned some other useful clay techniques such as how to build pieces without a pottery wheel.
“I started wanting to teach because I noticed at Rock Creek, we designed the (art docent) curriculum so that we parade different types of art in front of the kid until a kid finds a type of art that they’re successful at,” Robinson said. “For those kids where that we clay, they only got it once a year. I began hearing from kids I’d like to do more clay and I heard from parents that they would love to take a class.”
And that’s what led to her to teach a clay class for the city of Maple Valley parks and recreation department from September 2011 to May.
It wasn’t quite the right fit. Clay was a little messy especially for rooms the city wanted to rent out right after Robinson was done teaching classes.
“So, I went to see Jim Flynn,” Robinson said. “He had space available for both John and I. How often would that happen?”
Her husband runs Pacific Martial Arts in addition to his day job. A window between his studio and hers on the second floor of the building they are in now allows them to peek in on each other. John Robinson has previously taught karate classes for the city of Maple Valley as well, including a self-defense class for women.
Because her clay class for the city was successful, Robinson said, she knew she had a client base to support a business.
She and her husband made an offer to take over the studio space. Robinson said they started with summer camps until they felt like they were ready to expand offerings.
Robinson, who studied business and marketing in college, knew that the way she was going about opening Clayopatra Arts Studio was not typical nor is it usually a successful business model.
For her, though, it has been.
“I figured out right away if I did not take this opportunity in five years I could not sit around and complain that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” Robinson said. “I also have a very supportive husband.”
Patrons can take ceramics class or come in for open time to play with clay or paint pottery, Robinson said, or she hosts parties for groups, birthdays, or just about any other reason clients would want to get together or celebrate.
And even though, yet again, she knew better Robinson used the name her 13-year-old daughter Sydney came up with.
“I know you shouldn’t allow children to name your business,” she said. “But the names coming out of my brain were not conducive to what I wanted to relay — that we are fun, that we are energetic and that this is a place to have a good time. Then she just pipes up and says, ‘Mom just call it Clayopatra.’ It’s fun, it’s playful and it doesn’t just restrict it to clay. It was perfect, it was a moment of genius.”
Robinson does, like anyone with a business degree should, have a long-term plan for the studio.
Among the goals she has for Clayopatra is to offer a monthly teen night on Fridays but she will need a sponsor to help cover costs because she wants to provide food, too. Or even take art to kids.
“I think the teens need someplace else to go, maybe the more artistic ones, but their schedules don’t allow them to take the classes,” she said. “If a school doesn’t have it, I want to be able to put together a Clayopatra van, and just go.”
Also among her goals are two more phases for her business. Phase one is the studio she’s running now.
“Then I would like to move a little bit toward Black Diamond, open up a Clayopatra cafe where you can come in and paint pottery, where you can have coffee, soup, salads, sandwiches, light fare,” Robinson said. “Then I’d like to open up Clayopatra Art Bar. That’s where my business degree comes in. That’s my three to five year plan, to have those three things spread around here.”
Thus far, Robinson said, Clayopatra has been well received. She has repeat business, particularly on ladies nights and kids classes, though there are some classes which aren’t full.
“Everyone who has walked through the door starts breathing easier, they like the look of the place, they like what we offer,” Robinson said. “I’m having great responses, everyone’s been really happy with what they’re doing here.”
Ultimately, Robinson wants to tap into what seems like a natural haven for art in Maple Valley and surrounding communities.
And she wants it to be accessible. She points out how much similar classes to what she offers cost.
“My goal is to keep prices low,” Robinson said. “Art shouldn’t be expensive. Everyone should be able to do art if they want to.”
Clayopatra Arts Studio
23745 225th Way S.E.