During her first week working at Made in Muncie Pottery, Rachel Kline witnessed a family of three — a mom, dad and 1-year-old boy — come in and sit down to paint, but their visit was far from normal.
When they got started, Kline said the parents gave their son one tile at a time to play with and paint. They would write his name on each piece, not caring what it looked like.
“As I was walking by, he was flailing around with paint brushes, and he had paint on his face,” said Kline, the current manager of Made in Muncie. “He was little, so obviously the best way [for him] to get the paint off his face was to wipe it on his hand and lick it off.”
In the moment, Kline said she was horrified by this unusual sight, but she was also impressed not only with the amount of paint the child consumed, but also the minimal reaction from his parents.
“This kid [was] eating paint, and my boss had to calm me down,” Kline said. “He said, ‘It’s okay. It’s non-toxic. It happens more often than you think.’”
Today, Toren Scott, the owner, likes to call his employees “pottery waitresses,” who serve up non-toxic, sometimes edible glaze, along with pottery pieces.
“I most enjoy our customers, and my amazing employees,” Scott said. “We have always been blessed with the best customer base a business owner could ever hope for.”
Scott has owned the business for eight years, but has been involved since 2004.
Muncie residents may recognize the shop more as “The Artist Within,” but when Scott, who was originally a throwing instructor in the studio, bought the business, he decided to rebrand it because of how vague the name. During the rebranding in 2015, Scott changed the name to Made in Muncie Pottery LLC.
“People didn’t know, ‘Is it a gallery space, do I make stuff? Do I paint? Do I go look at stuff,” that sort of thing,” Kline said. “So by changing it to Made in Muncie, there is that idea that it is something that is local; something that you get to do.”
At Made in Muncie Pottery, more than 25 to 30 percent of the pottery they offer is made in Muncie. Some of their most unique pieces include a bust of ET, a gremlin and R2-D2.
Kline said each piece of pottery made in the studio started with a mold that was either given to the business, borrowed from other ceramic artists or bought.
The process can sometimes take a day just to pour the molds and let them sit. When finally hardened, the replicated molds can be cleaned to look “a little more polished.”
Once polished, the “pottery waitresses” fire them in a kiln, a furnace that completely hardens the pottery and turns it a chalky white color. From the kiln, these pieces are set out for customers to choose from when selecting what to paint.
Being a “pottery waitress” and helping people chose the perfect pieces at Made in Muncie Pottery, means performing customer service in a retail environment that can appear abstract to others.
“Whenever [the customers] walk in, we greet them, and if they have any questions, we kind of explain the process for them and how long it will take them to get [the pottery] back,” said Miranda McCartney, a worker at Made in Muncie Pottery. “Once they sit down, we explain how the paints work. Then we kind of let them have free rein.”
Much like Kline, McCartney said she has shared a lot of experience with children who come in to paint.
“I really like watching [people paint,] especially little kids,” McCartney said. “The four to five year olds kind of just go for it. To watch their pieces turn into something awesome, I think that's the best part. They just get super excited.”
During her three years on staff, Kline said she has seen customers take six or more hours working on simple mugs. On the other hand, she said she has seen some people come in and leave within half an hour.
Keeping with traditions from “The Artist Within,” Made in Muncie Pottery also has blank walls that features new art pieces each month from Ball State students, high school art departments, the Muncie Artist Guilds and Scott’s friends.
In the future, the shop wants to become more engaged with the Ball State community by holding events at the shop, going out into the community and featuring more student artists.
“The neatest thing about it is that we feel like Ball State is such an untapped resource for us,” Kline said. “We would love to have more events that we can do with Ball State. We have done Late Nite with them before, but we haven’t done that in a couple years. We’ve done a huge mommy and me sorority event, but that hasn’t happened in a couple of years either. There is a lot of different groups and events at Ball State we could be a part of, it’s just a matter of getting our foot in there.”
Contact Pauleina Brunnemer with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pauleina15.