Former Washburn lecturer brings together community through ceramics studio

Hard work paid off: Monette Mark showcases art at Fire Me Up Ceramics and Fine Arts Studios. The studio will have its official ribbon cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, February 2.

In an effort to unite the Topeka community through Fire Me Up Ceramics & Fine Arts Studio LLC, former Washburn University professor Monette Mark has found an inspiring community of her own in the North Topeka Arts District.

After searching for the perfect place for her ceramics studio to call home, Mark bought the iconic Dr. Pepper building in the NOTO Arts District.

Shortly after securing her building in November, Mark hosted a conference for the Kansas Artists Craftsmen Association. The conference featured nationally recognized ceramics artist Patricia Sannit.

At this conference artists were able to attend workshops and collaborate on a statue that will be placed in NOTO. Mark said she was thrilled to involve locals in creating the parts of the statue to create a community project that has already had so many hands touch it so soon after closing on the building.

The most rewarding aspect of opening her studio is the support she has received from the community. She has been given immense help from the neighboring stores and their owners, especially from Michael Bradley, co-owner of NOTO ArtsPlace.

“[Bradley] has been a tremendous supporter and help and [has been] tirelessly helping me in this endeavor,” Mark said.

Mark plans to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony and opening party during the First Friday Art Walk at 6 p.m. Feb. 1. The opening will feature live music, art displays, food and lots of fun. Although the building’s renovations will not be finished by the ribbon cutting ceramics classes will be starting, sending this community effort into full swing.

Mark will be teaching classes about throwing and hand-building techniques. Practice is highly important when learning the basics of ceramics which is why Mark set up the classes to last a six-week period.

“Learning to throw is like learning how to play an instrument. It takes practice,” Mark said.

She also plans on working with community groups such as home schools, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to provide art education courses and help scouts earn badges.

In addition to long-term classes, Mark will be holding events such as workshops, wine tastings, date nights and even selling supplies such as 50-pound boxes of clay at reasonable prices.

Studio space has been completely booked since before the building was officially bought, but Fire Me Up Ceramics still has shelf space available for artists.

Recent Washburn graduate, Harvey Flowers, is renting studio space and is excited about the opportunities available through Fire Me Up Ceramics.

“This space allows me to continue my work in ceramics,” Flowers said in a Facebook message. “Without this space I would have no access to clay, kilns and other materials.”

Flowers is also looking forward to collaborating with other artists and to learn from the community of ceramic artists who will share the same space.

When renovations to the bottom half of the building are complete, Mark plans to start working on the upstairs unit. In the spirit of fostering a sense of community, Mark would like to create the second floor of the building into apartments, and she looks forward to utilizing the apartments by creating an artist residency program to help support local artists.