Susan Gaible and her husband Mark Koslow have spent the last two years renovating a building they purchased in Shockoe Bottom. Soon they'll open their new business there called Shockoe Bottom Clay, which will include eight studio spaces and gallery space.
Koslow is the third generation in his family to open a business in Shockoe Bottom. His grandfather was in the wine industry and owned Southland Wine while his father owned Standard Hardware which was open for decades and then the building stood vacant for 20 plus years. (His wife says it was "one of those ugly empty buildings between 17th and 18th E. Main Street.")
For their new business, the couple has turned an air shaft into a kiln room, retail hardware space into five clay spaces and three beautiful upstairs studios for painters, potters or other artists. And right now, they're scrambling to open before the holidays because, as Gaible says, "our fellow artists deserve the great exposure we can give them." Their opening event will be held Thursday, Dec. 17 with gallery hours beginning on Dec. 18.
Style sent some e-mail questions to Gaible to learn more about the venture.
Style: What are your day jobs? You create art for a living?
Susan Gaible: Mark has a career in law enforcement and real estate. I have a career in marketing. I was most recently Director of Research for a tech company. I retired last week to follow my passions. Before that I was involved in shopper marketing, lead creative problem solving, brainstorm facilitation, was a brand manager, ran test kitchens, published etc. ….
We have not created art for a living but our family has integrated it into their lives. One of our sons has a successful glass gallery and studio in Asheville, NC. My dad was a creative director. My mother an artist and teacher. One of my sisters is the head mount maker at the Field Museum. From my eyes, I see that everyone is creative. For some it is just easier to find that heartfelt expression and go for it.
How did you get into ceramics?
I learned from ceramic artists in Boulder Colorado and put it down for 20+ years. Our son went to Alfred University, which is #1 in ceramics. He studied glass but he sparked my interest in ceramics. My husband, Mark, was a woodworker by vocation and joined me in my pursuits. He said, "this was easier than turning bowls. If you make a mistake in clay, you can reclaim it. With wood your errors become firewood." Mark has made a grandfather clock from a book, Stickley style dining furniture, Morris chairs and more. His ceramics tend to be of the arts and craft style.
Neither of us claim to be genius, leading ceramic artists. We are makers. With changing the trajectory of my life (retirement from corp life) I will have more time. The possibilities are tremendous!
Where might people have seen your stuff prior to this?
Juried local shows, Arts in the Park, South of the James farmers market, VISARTS and with contacts. Friends show up at my home and want to buy gifts.
So you're renting all eight studio spaces? Do you know the price range yet?
Yes, we have rented the clay studios on the first floor. These have gone by word of mouth. The upstairs is large (and beautiful). Pricing is month by month. If we can’t break even on the rent it will need to go up. Everyone understands this. We are going for responsible studio rentership. So for instance … to keep the cost down we are cleaning the place ourselves. If everyone doesn't do their part then rent will need to go up. We have estimated utilities. If the windows are open in December…. It’s the studio renters dime and rent will go up. We are doing this because it is our passion and we want to be able to kick-start persons with a passion for art. Age is not a criteria. Young or mature…. Doesn’t matter to us. What matters is passion. Not everyone can build a studio in their home and you don’t get the same artistic support at home. We are a micro-community.
Did you feel there was a lack of affordable studio space in this area?
I would not say there was not affordable studio space...we do not know that. We have several targets. First, the niche we are trying to fill is creating a pottery community of local potters with gallery space. We had vacant property in the middle of the block between 17th & 18th and see it as an opportunity to build the community. Second, We want to inspire creative self-expression and help folks make a living at it. If my marketing background can help someone, great! That is a perk. Marketing and communications at is a two way street. I need all the help I can get at social media. I didn’t grow up with Instagram. Last but not least, our gallery is not limited to the studio artists. We want to give artists, but not limited to ceramics a place to show and sell their work.
When do you want to have people in?
We are targeting January. We have an opening event for the gallery on Thursday, Dec. 17th. Interested folks are welcome. Our gallery hours then begin on Dec. 18th. Friday 12-6pm, Saturday 10-6pm and Sunday 10-6 pm.
Will studio renters have use of anything else? Like the kiln or . . .
Yes, there will be access to kilns, a slab roller and community table to do hand building or sculpture. We also put in a kitchen for those who lose track of the time. Renters will also have some access to the gallery.
I assume there's probably more than one reason why you decided to open in the Bottom?
We opened here because we had history and wanted to change a vacant empty building back into a vibrant contribution to the Shockoe Valley, Church Hill communities. The area is changing and we would like to see Shockoe Bottom become an area with working galleries to add to the other businesses in the area. Apartments are popping up everywhere. Coffee shops like Whisk are right up the street. Folks are walking around and this is a perfect place to land. We have a sushi bar opening on one side and another building on the other side that we have access to.