Play with Clay at the Mud Shack

April 15, 2009
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Susan performs some detail work.

Susan performs some detail work.

By Ellen Charland

Some people are smitten by mud mania — crafting from clay, using the potter’s wheel, painting and firing ceramics. They have a passion for this historic craft. Why? This and other questions were presented to Susan Anderson, the Mud Shack’s assistant manager, as she and a few staff members were preparing for another class in their La Verne studio.


Ceramics in North America has been around since the colonial period, Susan noted. Throughout the 19th century, the craft followed a very utilitarian tradition based on the English model. Pottery making was usually a rural activity, serving a local market with utilitarian ware. These pots were earthenware (ceramic, slightly porous) at first, but by the mid-19th century, most were salt glazed stoneware (salt glaze is created by adding common salt, sodium chloride in the chamber of a hot kiln). This work followed the evolutionary path of folk traditions with certain characteristic shapes like the ubiquitous small mouth, single-handled jug. Around the 1900s, industrial methods of making utilitarian ceramics rapidly replaced the country potter. At the same time, factories began producing our brand of “Art Pottery” — decorative art that was intended to appeal to the middle class. As for the potter’s wheel, which is also centuries’ old, it is a machine used in the shaping of round ceramic wares. The wheel may also be used during the process of trimming excess body from dried wares and for applying incised decoration of rings of color.


For those who want to explore their artistic side and create their own masterpieces, one of the best and closest places is the Mud Shack in La Verne, a fun and entertaining place where people of all ages can come and decorate ceramics.


“We welcome both artists as well as non-artists and provide everything they need,” Susan said. The studio fee is $8 and works like a cover charge, helping to cover the cost of having a storefront, but does not cover the cost of the ceramic piece you are painting. The studio fee is about the same as the cost of admission to a movie or a couple of fancy coffees, but here you get to make a unique ceramic piece that is handled with care until it is ready to go home with you. Most of the items are bisque ware (a piece fired once at low temperature) and priced anywhere from $3 to $40, depending on the size and what you choose to paint. A portion of the Mud Shack is dedicated to seasonal items. Colorful spring themes, of course, are popular in April, May and June.

The Mud Shack has a table waiting for budding pottery artists.

The Mud Shack has a table waiting for budding pottery artists.


Customers entering the cheerful and colorful store pick the perfect working piece out of an assortment of ceramic blanks, which vary from plates, bowls, mugs, teapots and bears to angels and animals. A friendly instructor is always nearby to show the customer to a wooden table that has a palette, sponge and a bowl of water. “Painting with the non-toxic clay takes about one to two hours,” Susan said.


Mud Shack offers birthday parties, field trips, Boys and Girls Scout days and much more. Private lessons are also available for students working on school projects. Teachers from local schools can make arrangements to bring their class in for a field trip during the year.


“It’s a fun time,” Susan said. One recent class made colorful mugs made accented with fingertip painting — a method where only fingertips are used in the decorating process. During the week, mothers take on the task of learning/making baby hand prints . Check with Denyse Hart, owner of the Mud Shack, for further information on this unique class.


Adults are attracted to the art form as much as the kids, “It’s a way to relax, a time to express yourself and get away from it all,” said Kevin Johnston, an aeronautical engineer and ffrequent Mud Shack enthusiast. Some of his work is on display here at the studio.


Susan added that many artists will often leave their artwork with an instructor who glazes the ceramic and then places it into a kiln for eight to 11 hours. The baked clay is then cooled and picked up later by the artist.


Susan holds aloft two more completed projects. Hummm, what can I make mom for mother's day?

Susan holds aloft two more completed projects. Hummm, what can I make mom for mother's day?

Susan, originally from South Africa, has been associated with the Mud Shack for at least a dozen years. “It is fun being here, because you meet a lot of nice people,” Susan said.


Painting ceramics is something to do that is educational and different. It is interactive for both children and adults. Come to think of it, Susan added, that may be the reason why the craft of ceramics has been around for so long and will continue to be so for many more generations.


The Mud Shack’s home is 2145 Foothill Blvd., Ste. A, La Verne, CA 91750; (909) 392-4948. All party times must be reserved in advance. This $25 non-refundable deposit is required to guaranteee your space, time and a party hostess. Parties require a minimum of six painters and a maximum of 18 painters. All parties include balloons for the birthday child, special placemats, a hostess and a special paint palette for the birthday painter (with eight or more painters). This is good for a free studio fee anytime. Party theme suggestions include: PJ Night, Mud Puddles, Springtime Plates




Books of interest

  • Ceramic Painting Made Easy – by, Susan Penny/Martin Penny
  • Ceramic Painting Color Workshop – by, Doreen Mastandrea
  • Start Painting Pottery and Bisque – by Scott Blader
  • Happy Hands and Feet (Kid Stuff) – by Cindy Mitchell

One Response to “Play with Clay at the Mud Shack”

  1. This is a great place for a date!

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