Squarepeg ceramics art studio offers more than just clay

Monday, October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Peg Craig dabbled in art during high school, but didn't pick it up again until 20 years later. Now, Craig holds ceramics classes in her basement studio, Squarepeg.

COLUMBIA — Peg Craig dabbled in art in high school, taking a few classes here and there, but it would be 20 years before she picked it up again.

Ultimately it was serendipity that led her back to art. A friend couldn't attend a painting class and asked Craig to go in her stead. By the end of that day, Craig was so pleased with what she had painted, she didn't stop.

In 2003, she signed up for a pottery class at Access Arts in Columbia and kept taking classes until 2009.

Fast forward three years: Craig now teaches ceramics in her own studio, Squarepeg Art Studio, in the basement of her house at 801 Broadhead St. in central Columbia.

Potter built pieces by hand or on wheels

Students spend six weeks completing a project. Most of them use hand-building methods, but pottery wheels are available as well. In the final week, they glaze their pieces, and Craig fires them in her kiln. 

The students' ages vary widely, she said: "I have taught an 80-year-old man, and I remember having someone here around the age of 15."

Craig put together a "sanctuary" in her basement to house the classes. A big table and chairs dominate the studio, giving students a comfortable place to work. Craig's kiln occupies an area where a washer and dryer might have been.

"These are what the students worked on last night," she said recently, opening a wardrobe door on the far side of the studio. 

The aroma of drying clay, subtle in the room until now, becomes more intense. Bags of half-finished plates, cups and bowls line the shelves.

"There is something innately pulling about clay," Craig said. "Everybody wants to get their hands on it.

"No one is coming to learn to be a potter for a living. They want to make things and enjoy themselves."

Before the studio

Craig started Squarepeg in 2010, after leaving a job in which she performed vision screenings for preschoolers and the elderly. Around this time her partner, Nancy Gause, was diagnosed with cancer.

"My job had me traveling around to different places for (vision) screenings, so it was going to be hard to do this while also being there for her," Craig said.

She decided to set up a studio where she could work and be close to Gause.

Two years later, both Gause and the studio seem to be doing well.

Craig took a moment to reflect on Squarepeg's progress: "It has been a slow process getting things organized at home. ... I am trying to make the upstairs side-room a gallery at the moment."

Columbia's Artlandish was the first gallery to sell Squarepeg pieces in 2011. A year later, Craig's pieces can also be found at A Stones Throw, an art gallery in Rocheport, and online through the artisan website

Selling her work

Right now she has 11 pieces on the Etsy site — tea sets, soup bowls, stem vases and a pipe in the shape of a pig.

"My goal is to get 20 to 30 pieces on Etsy," she said. "I think this number would be ideal."

Craig said using a web gallery like Etsy and creating a Facebook page for marketing her pottery has paid off. "The Facebook advertising has only been up for a couple months and has really helped," she said. "Using the Internet seems to work better than anything."

Not only has the Web helped Craig sell at least 200 pieces this year, it has been a vehicle to recruit students to her ceramics classes. Some are offered through the Columbia Area Career Center, where she began to teach shortly after starting her business.

"I had just started the studio when I ran into Barbie Banks from the Career Center," she said. Banks had been looking for a ceramics teacher to work in conjunction with the center.

"We want our teachers to be confident, to know their stuff and to be able to teach well," Banks said.

"I knew Peg through friends and knew she had a passion for what she did. ... The job would allow (Craig) to make money and to share this passion."  Craig is in her sixth semester teaching the class,"Pottery: Connecting With Clay," for the center.

The success of these classes spurred her to offer them at home, based on a similar platform.

When not teaching, she continues to shape clay using both hand-building and pottery-wheel techniques.

Combining these two techniques is where she really excels, said Karsten Ewald, who runs Karsten's Klaywerks, another ceramics studio in Columbia. "Peg has a very creative mind," he said.

Craig would like to offer one-day hand-building workshops at senior centers and also reach out to younger students.

"I want to do more kids classes," she said. "Kids are usually more uninhibited than adults and can really put their stuff out there artistically."

Another interest is meshing music and art. She has already made ceramic drums and flutes to combine the two arts, and she is working on a xylophone. 

"It is a great feeling when you are playing music on an instrument that you have made."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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