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COUPLE MOLDS ITS NICHE TO CLAY

TJ and Ashley Brenner operate The Artist Studio on Mill Beach Road. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).
TJ and Ashley Brenner operate The Artist Studio on Mill Beach Road. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).

By Marjorie Woodfin

Pilot staff writer

There's a new business in town that has something interesting for all ages: The Artist Studio.

According to owner, TJ Brenner, the emphasis is on the. But the operative word for the pottery painting business might be serendipity. Like Topsy, it just sort of grew.

TJ and his wife Ashley came to Brookings in June to start a boat building and repair business at the Port of Brookings Harbor.

As often happens in life, making arrangements for suitable space at the harbor is taking much longer than anticipated.

TJ started his career teaching agriculture to American Indians in Arizona, moved on to a career as a clinical psychologist, then marketing and next raising buffalo in Montana plus running a restaurant and casino. He obviously finds it easy to recognize and run with opportunities that float by.

In addition to building boats, the Brenners came up with the idea of producing yacht dinnerware to present to each new yacht owner.

It seemed only natural to get on with the dinnerware business while waiting for space for boat building, so they advertised for a potter. "I interviewed Rich Martin. He has 30 years of experience," TJ said. "I knew he was the man for me because he was wearing a blue shirt, and I wear a blue shirt."

He laughed and continued, "We wanted a business in Brookings that was not completely dependent on tourists, to benefit the community. We were looking for things for kids to do, something inexpensive for kids to do." That led to pottery painting classes for children and adults. "Something for retired people to do, something inexpensive and fun, creating memories," he added. He then explained that Ashley had been to a pottery painting class and enjoyed it.

"You don't have to be an artist," Ashley said. "We have stencils and patterns and very, very talented people to help you."

Again, serendipity, as one thing led to another. Looking for clay and glazes, the Brenners spoke with the distributors for Laguna Clay Co. They liked the products and when they were told that the current distributor was planning to retire, they contacted the corporation and asked if they could assume the role of distributor. They were told, "We have a distributor." TJ said, "No, you don't."

Soon the company discovered they didn't and the Brenners took over, with a territory that includes Southern Oregon and Northern California, distributing clay, glazes, kilns, tools, and books. "We will be adding other lines to supply stores," TJ said.

The shop, at 425 Mill Beach Road, is currently producing dinnerware, decorative accessories, and continuing to expand.

"When you give birth to a company, it's like giving birth to a baby. It just started growing," TJ said.

Everything is made on premises of non-toxic materials. Dry clay is run through a machine to sift and prepare it for use. Dinnerware and other pieces are made by hand, often using a wheel. Decorative pieces are created in molds made on premises.

Employees and owners work together in an atmosphere of mutual admiration and cooperation, with much laughter and camaraderie.

The Brenners, TJ, Ashley, 13-year-old Peter, 8-year-old Tristan, Mary, who is 5, and Thomason, almost 1, have issued an invitation to the public, "We're open! Come in and play. Paint your own pottery."

The invitation includes urging drop-ins to see the operation in action, and to hurry up and sign up for art classes. The Artist Studio is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For information, call (541) 469-3500, and ask for Kiera.

"We have a good working relationship," TJ said. "I do the marketing. Ashley is more creative, and she also keeps the books. We still plan to do the boat business as soon as we can lease property at the port."

In the meantime, the Brenners are having fun making, painting, and glazing pottery and providing enjoyment for the adults and children attending the pottery painting classes, as they look forward to the next opportunity that floats by.

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