Melissa Natale took her first pottery class when she was 12 years old, and she has been looking for the opportunity to get her hands dirty ever since.
“I’ve still got the pot I made in junior high, I use it all the time,” Natale said. When the COVID-19 lockdown began in 2020, she looked into buying her own pottery equipment but realized she didn’t have the space in her home.
Stopping Saturday morning at the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street in Cortland, Natale was quick to put her name on the Pottery Works sign-up sheet, hoping to take lessons when the studio opens in the fall.
“Now I’ve got two kids in college, so now I’ve got the time,” she said.
Artists and business owners set up tents in the parking lot for a day of celebrating art. The lilt of acoustic guitar music, broadcast over a set of speakers, was interrupted by the intermittent hum of stone carving drills and laughter.
“There are great artists here that somehow the town doesn’t know about,” said Ed Feldman, artist and co-owner of Pottery Works. “The more we can do things like this and bring the folks out to get to see the really great stuff happening here — it’s a win.”
A stone carver, a potter and a painter showed off their work and invited people to try their skills.
“What we wanted to do was provide an opportunity for people to come and actually get their hands dirty — rather than just look at art or buy art — which fits right in with the opening of our new community pottery studio,” said Tammie Whitson, co-owner of Cinch Art Studio and Pottery Works.
Laurie Seamans, an artist from Cortland, mostly does drawings with the occasional pastel piece — but the idea of working with clay caught her attention.
“I did my undergrad in art at Cortland, and I took one pottery class and loved it,” Seamans said. “But it’s been so many years, I’m looking forward to getting back into doing stuff just for the fun of it.”
Seamans and Natale took their time painting pre-made pots provided by Feldman, and watched him bake their pottery in a raku firing kiln he made by hand.
At the next tent over, painter Emily Gibbons set up her easel alongside two tables worth of her art for sale. Chatting with people as she painted watercolor flowers, Gibbons said she was happy to be a part of an event celebrating art.
“It’s nice to have a little community to be around people that are like-minded,” Gibbons said, gesturing to her fellow Cortland Corset Building tenants. “I try to encourage Cortland residents to come check out the space, because not everybody knows that it’s here. There’s a lot of things happening, and it’s a good way to support local.”
“I think there’s this perception of art being almost an elitist thing — that it’s only for certain people — and we’re trying to get rid of that and really get the message across to people that it’s just a matter of finding your passion, your skills,” said Tina Minervini, co-owner of Cinch Art Space and Pottery Works.
After years of hearing people doubting their artistic abilities, Minervini wants to show the community that they can try it before they count themselves out. Several of the artists renting space at Cortland Corset Building offer classes so people can try different media, she said.
“It’s just a matter of finding what clicks for you,” Minervini said.