Cincinnati has a history of making fine ceramics thanks to the fine clay that supplied brick manufacturers and famous companies such as Rookwood Pottery.
The city continues to maintain a large community of potters and ceramics studios, and the largest of these, Funke Fired Arts, has announced a change in ownership and a new name. The company also has plans to grow even larger.
Located in a former thermometer factory on Wasson Road in Hyde Park, the approximately 24,000-square-foot Funke Fired Arts studio will become Queen City Clay on Jan. 1. The new owners are the longtime director of education, Ben Clark, and a former pottery student, Denise Chase.
Chase is a veterinarian and founder/owner of Pleasant Ridge Pet Hospital. She will handle retail, accounting and other business aspects of Queen City, with her husband managing outside sales.
Clark said he will continue to “focus on working with the students, creating the same atmosphere in the space and looking down the road at a long-term vision for how we fit into the Cincinnati landscape.”
Changing Names, Growing Larger
The studio was founded in January 1996 by Annie Swantko, who called it Annie’s Mud Pie Shop. It picked up the current name when Swantko sold it to Tom Funke in 2005, and kept it after Nancy Stella, a one-time student, purchased the business in 2011.
It is now one of the largest public ceramics studios in the country — meaning students and artists from the general public can take classes and rent equipment and studio space — and offers classes for all skill levels.
Clark has taught at the 50-wheel studio since 2005. He has been studio manager and lead instructor for the past decade. During that time, many of the city's best known ceramics artists have taught at the studio and/or used its kilns and wheel-works or purchased their clay and other supplies.
“My goal was always to own the business because I’m here all the time," Clark said. "This is what I want to be doing when I’m outside of the house.”
Building on History
Clark and Stella have been working together on rebranding the studio, and Clark said he's always wanted the studio to have a name that ties it to the history of Cincinnati.
“With Cincinnati having such an awesome ceramics tradition and clay history, it’s really fun to put ourselves into that line," Clark said. “We’re definitely building on what’s already here, because what is so interesting about this place — and it’s hard to understand until you come into the building and experience it — there’s just this ridiculously strong community of students here that don’t just support each other as far as your growth in clay and skill level in clay. It’s like you have a second family outside your house.”
But Clark said he sees room for more: expansion into other arts and a national profile that would encourage tourists to visit Cincinnati.
“We need to grow it into this place where you can come with any creative idea. We can help you make that happen. I feel like with the community that’s here already we do that, but I just want to expand on that," Clark said.
“I want to be more inclusive in general with our studio community," he added, "and touch base with Mid-South Ceramics down in Nashville, Tennessee, and Core Clay on the other side of town (in East Walnut Hills) and Covington Clay and Whistlestop, and become more of a giant studio community in this area so that we become a destination for people who love clay and want to travel and see several spots in one area.”