By Andrew Christ
Late in 2006, Stephen and Kathryn Space made one of their dreams come true when they started Space Studios (16 N. Winding Dr.), located just off of Isabella Road (M-20) about seven miles west of downtown Midland. The business gives people the chance to engage their creative energies in building and/or painting clay objects. The staff instructors are skilled in producing clay works, and six days per week visitors can schedule time with them to learn "wheel-throwing, hand-building and glazing" techniques. If a visitor arrives at Space Studios with an idea of what to make, instructors will guide the potter through the process to completion. Alternatively, a visitor may pick out an already-made item and paint it using brushes, stamps and/or stencils.The staff then adds a clear coat of glaze and fires it. The maker picks up the final project the same week. For groups of five or more, special activities may be planned. While the owners made it clear to me that their place is "not a school," they also noted that their biggest seller is the studio session with a staff instructor.
The Spaces have a longtime love of art and background in it. They met in the 1980s when they were both students at the Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids. The school has since been bought by Ferris State University; it is known now as Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. As students at the Kendall School of Design, Stephen and Kathy both trained as illustrators.
In 1987, the couple married and Stephen took a job with the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, where he was part of an in-house graphic design team. Twenty years later, Stephen began a home-based business of his own, also in graphic design. "We talked with the Michigan Small Business Association in Saginaw," explains Stephen, "and learned from them about demographics and how to get into business." Starting with one client, Stephen joined the Midland Chamber of Commerce "and gleaned seven more clients from that." The business now has clients all over the United States.
At the Midland Center for the Arts, Kathy began working part-time with children in the center's pottery classes.Then the Midland Community Center also offered pottery classes and an instructor there who also taught out of her home asked Kathy to help her with these students as well. When this instructor moved from Midland, Kathy and Stephen decided to open their home in Homer Township to pottery students. Their basement studio and clientele grew until they decided to dream bigger and open a pottery business of their own. After looking for several months for a place to establish their business, they decided on the five acres that now house Space Studios.
If you are interested in visiting the studio, you must first choose your own times for working on your pottery. Instructors are available to help guide students who have a specific project in mind. Each customer has a place of his or her own to store work until ready to come back to work on it some more. You may choose to begin on the spinning table, where you shape the wet clay by hand. Instructors then guide you through any additional processes, such as painting and glazing. If you want instead to build a piece without using the spinning table and wet clay, an instructor will guide you through that experience, at whatever pace you are most comfortable with. If you simply want to paint a ready-made clay item, an instructor will be happy to help with that as well. Most of the business at Space Studios comes from student-driven projects guided by staff instructors. Less often, customers buy pieces made by instructors.
As their businesses have grown, the Spaces have continued to dream bigger. The couple now entertains ambitions of expanding the creative experience for customers interested in large printmaking, blacksmithing and weaving. As they continue to listen to what their customers are interested in doing, they explain, "We built this to share. We didn't build it for us."
© Andrew Christ, 2009