Lisa Bradley, the effervescent owner of Savannah’s Clay Spot recalls her mom signing her up for “a little after-school clay class” and absolutely loving it.
However, it was not until her sophomore year at Kent State University that she was to experience that joy again: “As soon as I walked into the studio, I was hooked,” she tells me. “Everybody’s happy…They’re all talking…And as soon as I started working with the clay all those little fifth grade feelings came back…Oh yeah…I love this!”
Sensing Lisa’s passion, her professor encouraged her to change her major from Art Education to Ceramics – ultimately allowing her the opportunity to create, but also to teach in private schools, museums, and art centers. “The best of both worlds,” she says with a laugh.
How Lisa ended up in Savannah after college is a serendipitous tale. She took a study abroad program in Italy through the University of Georgia thinking she would meet a variety of art students from all over the United States.
“But I got to Italy, and they were either Southern-speaking UGA students or Italians. I was the oddball from Ohio.”
She had the good fortune to meet acclaimed Savannah sculptor Susie Chisholm, several decades her elder. They bonded as non-traditional students and became good friends. Susie had a studio in City Market at the time, and while in Italy one of the four artists in the workspace moved out. Lisa remembers wondering why anyone would have given that up as it sounded ideal, and Susie said, “It IS ideal. And you need to move down and take her spot.”
Returning home to Ohio as a new graduate, Lisa was filled with self-doubt about moving here. “I’d never been to Savannah. I’d never even been to Georgia. Where would I live?” But Susie kept encouraging her and trying to reel her in. The final enticement came on a phone call on the day after Thanksgiving. Susie said, “I know where you’re going to live. I had Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s family and his cousin has a house on Tybee on the beach. She needs a renter for the winter.”
The rest is history. The cousin gave Lisa the most amazing deal on her rent and in early 1998 she moved to Tybee, started creating in Susie’s studio in City Market, and scored a part-time job teaching clay classes for the City’s art program, then located in Daffin Park.
Lisa met her painter husband Kip (now the studio programs manager for Telfair Museums) while he was running the painting program for the City. Marriage and the birth of twin daughters ensued, and after several years of teaching for the City and for SCAD, Lisa opened Savannah’s Clay Spot a decade ago. Again, it is a serendipitous tale...
Inspired by a fellow graduate of Kent State (Lisa thought, “Well if she can do it, I can do it!”) she found a realtor who had been a potter in another life. She knew she wanted a one story, raw space with cement floors. Everything the realtor showed her was just too fancy, built out, or had no parking. “Driving home from work one day, I saw this building with a teeny-tiny ‘For Rent’ sign,” she relates.
She knocked on the door and her now landlord reluctantly showed her the very raw, rough space - a former appliance workshop and storage space - which, of course, turned out to be the perfect home for Savannah’s Clay Spot.
“My landlord and I have a fantastic relationship now. He took a leap of faith on me, and I took a leap of faith on starting a business.”
Today, Lisa teaches a full roster of classes in her cheerful space – summer pottery camp for children, kids’ after-school programs, adult classes such as beginning wheel, silkscreen printing on clay, artful dishware, and more. She delights in staying connected with her former students, and they often drop by to see her. The love is evident.
“Clay is different from other mediums. I feel like we can all be social and have conversation while we are creating and being productive. That comradery draws people in.”
Students seem truly happy to be in Lisa’s space. During afternoon open-studio time, I chat briefly with ceramicist Derek Larson whose sculptural work has just been accepted into ShopSCAD Savannah. He tells me he felt very isolated during COVID and is delighted to be back with Lisa and his fellow students. I meet Hannah Burtnik who has been creating for three years: “It’s such an encouraging community here,” she says.
Indeed, at Derek’s suggestion, Hannah applied and was accepted into Gallery 209 as their latest 3-D artist. I sense both Derek and Hannah feel nourished and inspired by Lisa’s positivity, warmth, and genuine enthusiasm—both for her medium and for her students.
After a COVID shutdown, the Clay Spot reopened this spring with the help of many of the students who desperately wanted to help her keep her doors open. Lisa cut down the number of participants in each class, asked them to wear masks, and focused on good ventilation.
“I tell everyone there is an invisible rainbow over the door. I am so fortunate. I have a wonderful group of people who took turns to be here during open studios which gave me the time to go home to help my thirteen-year-old girls with their on-line schooling.”
When Lisa is not teaching, she carves out time to take classes herself and to create her bespoke porcelain pieces.
“Shutting down during COVID was amazing for me. I’ve taken so many on-line Zoom classes and learned so many new techniques without having to travel!” A founding and active member of the Savannah Clay Community, her own whimsical work is exhibited and collected both locally and nationally.
She describes it as “a visual walk into my imaginary Candyland Garden.”
“I use fun, pastel colorful glazes to reference sweet candies. I think it’s just that nostalgia of childhood, of loving candy as a child—it was so special. Clay is my candy. I’ve always been drawn to candycolored glazes. For example, I love to use iridescent mother of pearl because its reminiscent of the cellophane-wrapped easter baskets of my childhood.”
“I’ve been so fortunate. This is more than just a business. This is my home away from home. Little do they know; these students are my second family and I worry about them. I love them just like I do my family members. This is my heart and soul.”
Savannah’s Clay Spot can be reached at 912. 509.4647 and is located at 1305 Barnard at Henry (look for Holly, the vintage trailer used for art shows, parked outside). Registration for fall classes is happening now at www.SavannahsClaySpot.com, or drop by and say ‘hello’ Monday - Thursday, 1:30 - 4:30, or Fridays 10:00 - 2:00. And for a glimpse into the happy and imaginative work created at the studio, check out its Instagram page @savannahsclayspot