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North Hills Monthly

Local Businesses Help Customers Make that Perfect Handmade Gift

Oct 29, 2020 12:22PM ● By Erica Cebzanov

Photo courtesy Katie's Clay Studio

Artistic pursuits such as baking, knitting and painting have gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as people have sought relaxing activities to pass the time. With the holidays approaching, local businesses are also assisting people in creating handcrafted gifts.

Katie’s Clay Studio in Allison Park carries more than 500 paint-your-own-pottery items, with prices starting at $13. “You can bring your kids in and they can make a mug for Dad or a platter for Grandma (they can put their handprints on those) or they can paint an ornament to give to somebody,” said owner Katie Petrovich. She added that people may also bring their pets to the studio—by appointment as required for all visits during the pandemic—to make pawprint ornaments, too.

Another option is the “family bowl,” that features family members’ interlocked clay hands. A person traces each person’s hands on paper and selects a dish color, and then a studio employee creates the bowl of interlocking clay hands utilizing the provided outlines. Family bowls start at $80.

“People make a platter one year and then come back the next year to do a different platter, and kind of keep these years of their handprints growing as their family grows,” said Petrovich. “That's a family treasure that you just don't get if you go buy something from a department store.”

The studio also offers pottery wheel throwing, clay sculpting, board/pallet wood art and canvas painting. Katie’s Art-To-Go kits allow people to complete paint-your-own-pottery, as well as canvas and wooden shape painting at home.

Makers may ignite a new artistic passion when they sign up for the Alcohol Inks on Tile course offered at Bottlebrush Gallery & Center for the Arts. MJ McCurdy, who co-owns Bottlebrush with her husband, Dennis, teaches beginner-level students to create vibrant designs on ceramic tiles using alcohol inks. The images are set on tiles by lighting the ink on fire. 

“People love that; at first, they're a little afraid of it, but then you can't stop them,” laughed McCurdy of the center’s most popular class. Tuition is $35 and includes supplies.

The tiles also make great gifts. “You can use them as coasters or trivets, you can hang them or you can frame them,” said McCurdy. “You can use them to make backdrops on sinks and counters. You can piece them all together and make counters. There's so many things you can do with these; they are just wonderful.”

Another Bottlebrush option is to create a Christmas tree collage using vintage or costume jewelry. Have stray earrings, and you don’t know what to do with them? This $40 class is for you. In previous classes, students have even created tribute pieces using jewelry previously belonging to deceased loved ones. 

If you would prefer to purchase a handmade gift, Bottlebrush’s gallery features items from 85 local artisans originally from or currently residing within 50 miles of the gallery. 

“Especially now with the COVID-19 virus, we need to support each other by buying items from artists who live in this area,” McCurdy said. “You can get things at the gallery that are so much nicer and so much more unique than what you could buy at a big retail or a big box store. 

“When you spend your money here at the gallery, that money is going into the community and it is spent in the community,” she added.

Finds include soaps containing North Country Brewery beer, sparkling white wine and coffee, ceramic kitchenware, pet treats and collars, and face masks and postcards, among others. Wooden toys, puzzles and dinosaur pillows appeal to young shoppers.

Ton Pottery ceramics studio is in transition as owners Daniel Kuhn and Aasta Deth announced in July that they have decided to sell their Millvale storefront.

“Our plan before COVID was to eventually move the studio home in order for us to focus on making, but that was maybe five to 10 years from now,” said Kuhn, adding that they are not sure if the studio would have remained or if they would have sold or rented it. “The virus pushed everything up; we decided we should not wait for anything.”

Kuhn said that they plan to teach small workshops for intermediate and advanced ceramic artists in raku, wood-firing and soda-firing in their forthcoming home studio. They will maintain their online store and appear at large festivals, and Kuhn also anticipates returning to university teaching.

In the meantime, the Millvale studio’s retail space will reopen in November for holiday shopping. Ton Pottery currently sells mugs, tumblers, vases, shave mugs, paint-your-own toad houses, garden tiles, bee-waterer stations and more online. For the holidays, Kuhn is adding 15 new small business kits. One will pair Redstart Roasters coffee, a handmade mug and a paperback novel; another will have a handmade Damascus paring knife, cutting board and olive oil dipping plate.

Visit Harmony for the Holidays

Cross everyone off your shopping list by visiting Artisans’ Saturdays at Harmony’s open-arts fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 14. 

Find booths along the square and Mercer Street and behind the Harmony Museum and the Bottlebrush Gallery.

Due to COVID-19, Harmony Museum has cancelled its annual WeihnachtsMarkt, or Christmas Market, which draws thousands. In lieu of the event, a smaller Christmas Kickoff in Harmony is slated for Nov. 14. See the town decked out for the season and enjoy holiday favorites at the town’s eateries during the festivities.

The Harmony Business Association and Harmony Museum are sponsoring both events. Masks and social distancing are required.