Everything tells a story – Michelle Kelly, Earth Arts of Long Beach
Happy New Year Long Beach!
This month I’m sharing an interview I did with Michelle Kelly, owner of Earth Arts of Long Beach. I’ve always wanted to visit her pottery/art studio and before the end of 2017, I finally got my chance.
Michelle is a Long Island native who grew up in Baldwin. She knew her calling from a young age. “In 7th grade I realized I could actually draw what I saw,” she says with a smile.
She went to school for architectural and interior design in Syracuse but found it too “mechanical and stressful.” Determined to figure out her next step, she put on make-up (not her norm), braided her hair, and got all dressed up to see the dean of her school. Relief set in when she found herself sitting across from a hip guy with a ponytail. He advised her to look into arts education. She liked it, went to study in Italy and Paris, and became a high school art teacher.
Michelle met her husband Tim the good old-fashioned way—he crashed her party in Long Beach. They settled in the canals, had children, and talked about opening a studio one day. When Tim retired early from Verizon they decided to go for it. They opened the studio in May of 2010, and named it Earth Arts because, “clay comes from the earth.”
Michelle says that having the studio, “allows us to work a lot with the community.” They also tend to get recognized quite a bit. “We’ll be in the supermarket, and people will point to Tim and say, “Oh, there’s the pottery guy.”
The studio is a comfortable, relaxing space, with plenty of tables and chairs for budding artists to spread out and work on their projects. Splashed with color, it’s filled with dozens of canvases and all sorts of pottery shapes. Michelle showed me finished pieces of pottery that were created with an assortment of techniques that involve using paper towels, bubbles, masking tape, paper stencils, stamps, and more.
The beach-themed pottery is popular with the locals, but there’s a catalog of items to browse— everything from seasonal motifs to whimsical designs. Even the poop emoji! Which you are free to paint whatever color inspires you.
They used to have pottery wheels, but decided to give them up. Michelle smiles. “It’s not like Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. It takes time and patience to learn, and most people gave up working with wet clay on the wheel.” That’s when Tim announced, “they don’t pay their rent so they have to go!”
“It’s hard to run a small business,” Michelle says, “nobody is getting rich.”
The studio offers classes for group instruction, but you can walk in anytime and make whatever you like. The staff is always on hand and happy to help. Presently, they have 7 employees and instructors—mostly high school students. Earth Arts offers a great opportunity for local youth to find meaningful employment, and staff meetings always include dinner and pottery painting!
The studio survived Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage. “We bleached and stained the floors and were able to re-open mid-December.” A short time after they re-opened, Paul Ferrante, Assistant Superintendent of Recreation, came looking to see if they could provide a place for kids to go while the town went into recovery mode. Michelle and Tim said yes, and developed an art program in cooperation with the recreation department. Today they continue to give K-8 classes in coordination with the Recreation Center, and host two summer camp programs.
Over the past few years, Michelle has shown her commitment to Long Beach in many ways. She was one of the four founders of Pay It Forward, the community group that rose up to help local businesses get back on their feet after the storm. And she was a key member of the team (initiated by the ladies of Project 11561) who created the wonderful Welcome to the West End tile wall on New York Avenue. The tiles were painted at Earth Arts and Seaside Celebrations with help from local resident, Lisa Mascolo.
This spring—for the 6th year—Earth Arts will once again host an Empty Bowls fundraiser, a local event in association with the international hunger program. The concept is simple. Walk into the studio anytime during the campaign, donate $30 to paint your own ceramic bowl, then bring it to the fundraiser and have it filled with a pasta dinner. Michelle is still working on the details, but most likely it will be held at St. Mary’s in late March/early April—check back on their website soon for official details. It’s a fun evening with raffles, games, and music for the whole family. Plus, part of your donation goes to Long Beach charities, including: the Martin Luther King Pantry, the Long Beach soup kitchen, Saint Mary’s food pantry, and the VFW food pantry.
As we did deeper into the coldest months of the year, please keep in mind how important it is to patronage our local shops. Not every town has a studio like Earth Arts, and it takes customers to keep our main street thriving. And remember, if the winter blues set in, you can cheer yourself up by spending an afternoon with the winter pinks, greens, and yellows at Earth Arts!