Mert Looney’s passion was ceramics.
She and a friend attended a class, and then she began doing ceramics regularly, says her daughter, Diann Rausch. In 1989 Looney’s hobby turned into a business: Country Clay Ceramic Studio.
But Looney got sick, and the studio shut down. When she passed away earlier this year, Rausch and her brother Steve Looney inherited the business. After a four-year absence, Country Clay Ceramic Studio, at 3051 Selma Pike, reopened on November 1.
Although a few things have changed with Rausch at the helm – for example, the store now has a website
and Facebook page
– the basics remain. The studio largely isn’t the type of make-and-take pottery shop that many people are used to, she says. Instead, it is much more do-it-yourself.
“I think it’s more rewarding to start from the beginning,” she says. “Then it’s all yours.”
Customers choose what they want to create from thousands of molds. Rausch then pours liquid clay into the molds, creating what is called greenware. Once it comes out of the mold and dries for a few days, the greenware must be cleaned and smoothed to eliminate the mold lines. Either Rausch or the customers themselves can do this.
Then the item gets fired in a kiln, and it can be painted or glazed. If it is glazed, it is then fired again to create a sheen.
“It’s different than what people are used to,” she says.
It also is popular. On a recent Saturday, people were waiting at the studio before the doors opened and there was a steady stream of customers all day, she says.
Christmas items are especially popular right now, particularly the classic ceramic Christmas trees with bulbs and light kits. While a large 18-inch tree costs $122 from start to finish with all supplies included – a fraction of the cost of many such trees online, she says – ceramic ornaments and the supplies to decorate them can be created and purchased for under $10. Projects can take several visits to account for drying, firing, cooling, painting or glazing.
Rausch says that the collection of more than 4,000 molds includes not only Christmas items, but also items for every holiday and more. She has many animals, including dog figurines and dog ornaments featuring 30 different breeds. She has coffee cups and canister sets. She has banks and Southwest-inspired items.
“I may not have it poured yet, but if there’s something someone’s looking for, I can probably get it or find it,” she says.
The studio also offers workshops and classes, with plans to offer a class for kids in the future.
Rausch spent four months preparing the studio to reopen, cleaning, organizing and taking inventory. Tracking the molds has been a time-consuming task.
Her mom had a 3x5-inch index card dedicated to each mold, filed in a metal card catalog. Rausch began transferring the information into an Excel spreadsheet, but there was one problem.
“What she didn’t have on there is where it is,” she says.
Now the shelves are labeled, and most of the molds are easier to find. She is about three-quarters done with the project.
Rausch grew up in Pitchin, graduated from Southeastern High School and now lives with her husband and their 11-year-old daughter in Mechanicsburg, where they have and board horses.
Her mom was not only good at ceramics, but also at teaching others. As a kid Rausch would paint ceramics but even as she grew older she knew only the basics about how they were created.
“I didn’t know how to pour the molds or fire the kilns,” she says.
Rausch is continuing to learn the ropes as she follows in her mother’s footsteps, including learning just how heavy and unwieldy some of those plaster molds really are.
“I kind of hit the ground running,” she says.
Country Clay Ceramic Studio is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed Sundays and Wednesdays.