Fostering creativity and community with paint-your-own pottery
As you enter the art studio and retail space for Earth, Glaze, and Fire, LLC on Main Street in Warrenton, the bright, lightly-colored space with pale beige hardwood floors, white walls, and shelves upon shelves of pottery and ceramics welcome you. The studio features one dark mauve main wall that elegantly frames and displays the pure white pottery.
The tables and furniture are plain black, allowing boys, girls, and adults of all ages to enjoy the tactile experience of working with pottery, ceramics, and canvas without the distractions of random color splashes. The reason for little color is purposeful: the premise of this family-owned business is to give customers the opportunity to browse among the multitude of ceramic and pottery ‘blanks’ and paint their own pottery selection using the color, style, and painting technique of their choice. Though a few whimsically painted pieces appear throughout the studio, they are mere examples of artistic renditions meant to innocently inspire.
There is a wide variety of blank pottery and ceramic items to choose to work with, including food-related items such as coffee mugs, dishes, teapots, and server ware, as well as animals, including birds, rhinos, elephants, and fish, to name a few. In case you need some help with imagination, there’s a pretty good chance a Buddha, unicorn, mermaid, prince, tiny mushroom house, or garden gnome may divert you to a new dimension of fantasy and intrigue.
Earth, Glaze, and Fire offers customers the opportunity to pick their favorite ceramics or pottery pieces to paint. Studio staff then glazes and fires the pieces, and a week later, customers pick up their hand-painted pieces and take them to enjoy at home. The studio also offers classes in clay handbuilding (working with raw clay to roll and build personalized and often intricate works of art using simple tools), allows customers to use the pottery wheel to spin pieces into shapes, and offers painting classes, summer camps, team-building events, and loads of theme parties for brides-to-be, family get-togethers, and more.
However, to describe Earth, Glaze, and Fire as merely an art studio or a retail store that sells finished pottery would be as empty and remiss as calling Fauquier County just a place in Virginia with a bunch of cornfields, mountains, and the occasional horse or cow. It is more than that. The heart of the studio lies in its owners who quietly put in their time to work for the company for several years, had an opportunity to buy the business, and created an unusual path to success from the get-go.
The mother-daughter team of Nadia (daughter) and Danielle Schwarz (mother) has owned Earth, Glaze, and Fire since June 2018. They come from a long family line of artists. Nadia’s father worked with fine china, needle point arts, and oil painting. Nadia teaches classes, works with ceramics and pottery, and paints on china and canvas. Danielle is well-known for her diligent attention to highly detailed paintwork.
Before becoming owners, both Nadia and Danielle worked at Earth, Glaze, and Fire since approximately 2012. It was previously a ceramic shop, but with new ownership came a decision to make it more of an art experience than simply a shop that sold things. In fact, the sales aspect was such a low priority that it became secondary to their true mission. At the heart of the matter was an unpublished, unmarketed, private commitment to maintain an art studio that functions principally to provide a warm, friendly, relationship-building atmosphere and unite the local community.
“The opportunity [to buy] was given to us because the [previous] owner wanted to retire and move to Florida. We played with the option [of ownership]. We knew this would be good for the community,” explained Nadia about her decision to purchase the business. She was reluctant to give up the pottery shop where she worked alongside her mother for the previous six years. Danielle expounded with a simple phrase that spoke volumes about their character, “We’re huge with [people who have] disabilities. If we closed, where were they going to go?” She phrased her comment as a question, but revealed her motivation in the process. Both ladies cared deeply about the customers of Earth, Glaze, and Fire.
The ladies were already well experienced working with groups of disabled individuals who relied on the art studio for enjoyment. They realized this wasn’t just any old activity to those with disabilities — for those customers, it was more of a life force that provided therapy, gave them meaning, and helped build their social-emotional skills. Nadia and Danielle were not willing to compromise those benefits to the community by closing.
In their first year as owners, the ladies gratefully received an outpouring of community support. They stayed busy serving customers, providing advice and instruction on painting techniques, and hosting camps for children and creative paint parties for adults. Throughout 2019, Nadia and Danielle enjoyed hosting art contests, picking artists of the month, and engaging their community through different means. They obtained a liquor license through Virginia ABC and served wine and beer to customers indoors. They also served complimentary coffee and supported off-site food purchases by encouraging customers to dine at eateries along Main Street, thereby furthering their commitment to the local community.
During the pandemic, business continues, but with spaced-out seating giving ample room for customers to paint with social distancing rules in place. With a loyal following from Haymarket, Culpeper, and D.C., Earth, Glaze, and Fire welcomes customers from everywhere. Danielle noted that the pottery is fragile and breaks easily. Yet, both ladies are consciously aware that working with pottery strengthens all who work with it by building community one piece at a time.