1 Ben Clark, president/owner/leisure consultant, pictured in the main teaching area at QCC.

Moving a studio, no matter the size, is no easy feat. Moving a community clay space and supply business is  an undertaking involving many stages and lots of planning. 

To buy or not to buy? To relocate and expand, or stay put and reorganize? These are questions I (Ben Clark) have been asking myself for as long as I can remember about the studio I worked for and now own. The answers were always force fed to me and my staff but, after several years of diversifying and saving, opportunity knocked right before the world shut down. 


There are a few things you need to know about Queen City Clay (QCC) before you can make a judgment on how well this article relates to decisions you might be making about your own space. We are a for-profit business. Twenty-six years ago, our studio began as Annie’s Mud Pie Shop, then became Funke Fired Arts, and is now Queen City Clay. We have been operating as a retail shop, educational facility, and rental space the entire time. At any point in our history, there have been 5–8 other clay studios operating in the Cincinnati, Ohio, region. Our mission is to give everyone we can reach, regardless of skill, time, budget, or background, a positive interaction with clay. 

2 View from near an entrance into the main teaching/wheel area.

Now that you have the basics, here are some numbers from five years ago so you know where we came from. QCC rented a 25,000-square-foot warehouse building in the Hyde Park/Oakley neighborhoods of Cincinnati. These are areas with quickly rising property values and a growing demand for multi-family condos. Education drives our business, so we devoted around 15,000 square feet of floor space to the studio, making us one of the largest public clay classrooms in the country. Our class sessions held around 175 students in the winter and 150 in the summer (no air conditioning). We had 37 rental spaces, a pottery painting studio, and a small retail footprint focused on local schools and our growing student body. QCC operates with a full-time staff of 7 and 42 part-time teachers and supplemental staff. By 2016, we had restructured our floor plan so many times to accommodate our growth that we completely ran out of options. Pressure from our landlord and unsafe working conditions had us questioning why we wanted to keep updating a building we had no ownership in. Plus, anyone who owns a studio business has the realization that if you don’t own the land, you don’t own much. 

My co-owners, who stash profits like squirrels preparing for winter, had been slowly accumulating funds for a building and we started a two-year search for a new home. We wanted a central location, more than 25,000 square feet, and a similar open feel to our Hyde Park home. Norwood is a separate city within the Cincinnati region, provides more affordable real estate than the surrounding area, and was only 3 miles away. After seeing 47 buildings, we found a 50,000-square-foot warehouse inside Norwood’s Industrial District and put in an offer. Once the purchase was final, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, the need to reinvent ourselves became a reality.

3 The retail area and pottery painting studio.4 This is the glazing area, with the studio cone-9 glaze test tiles in the background. When there are glaze decisions to make, the Wheel of Indecision helps. Photos: Charity Rust-Jordan and Thomas Jordan.

The New Space

Moving accumulated treasures of a 26-year span in business was an undertaking I still can’t believe we accomplished. Our shelving units alone were made of over five miles of angle iron. We filled 14 semi truckloads and 17 moving vans with over 60 wheels, 14 electric kilns, a Blaauw kiln, mixers, pugmills, thousands of retail products, an entire warehouse, outdoor wood and soda kilns, and 96 pallets of clay and brick. What’s more unbelievable is that we only had two weeks to accomplished this. The physical labor is one thing, but the stress that goes with managing an active construction site where every electric plug, open sign, light, heater, sink, exhaust fan, door, and parking space must be placed on engineered drawings, built or installed, and then inspected for fire- and building-code compliance before getting an occupancy permit was debilitating. We succeeded after 12 reworks of our electric, HVAC, and plumbing systems.

5 View of glaze area with the salmon fish run painting above. 6 A student practicing pulling a cylinder in the main teaching/wheel area.

QCC has been in the new space for several months and our “move-in” list is getting smaller. The floor plan and engineering took a total of two years. Construction costs went well over our estimates, and if not for an SBA loan and the help of over 70 volunteers, we would have failed. Our sustainability efforts are still in flux. We plan to install a clay-sedimentation capture and water-reclamation system, which is still going through permitting processes. Our roof will hopefully be covered with solar panels within two years. These panels are projected to handle 97% of our electric needs. Our business model has changed to allow for growth in the new building. QCC currently has around 205 students taking classes. We now have 40 wheels in the teaching studio to allow for events and classes to run simultaneously. We created an event space to accommodate corporate outings and community meetings. Our new retail shop houses the pottery painting studio and connects to our warehouse so one person can oversee all three operations during business hours. Finally, we revived our artist-in-residence and co-op programs, using 4000 square feet of studio space to be a better community partner to our local high schools, colleges, and universities. These residencies help to greatly expand our class offerings and outreach possibilities. We remain a 50,000-square-foot experiment, and when you visit Cincinnati, our entire staff will be excited to welcome you to the studio.

7 Peeking into the Trish Martindell Gallery at QCC. Photos: Charity Rust-Jordan and Thomas Jordan.

the authors Ben Clark is the owner of Queen City Clay and aside from teaching, he creates mainly wheel-thrown sculpture and functional pottery. He graduated from DePauw University and received an MFA from Wichita State University.

Andrew Osterburg is a wheel instructor and glaze technician at QCC. His day job is at the University of Cincinnati, where he studies the role of natural killer cells in lymphangioleiomyomatosis and COPD.

Topics: Ceramic Artists