Ceramics in Cayce: Local couple turns artistic hobbies into full-fledged business
A former bar, diner and market in the heart of Cayce has been transformed into the city’s newest go-to place for all types of handmade art. As owners John and Venetia Sharpe will tell you, the journey to bring Sharpe Creations Studio and Gallery to life has not been without a few bumps — not unlike those found on some of John’s favorite pieces of finished pottery.
“We’ve been searching for a place to put our stuff,” John said.
The Sharpes retired from military life, during which John was part of the Special Forces, in 1995 and found themselves back in Venetia’s former hometown of Cayce in 1996 to raise their children. They brought with them a myriad of artistic trades that they picked up and learned along the way, including ceramics, photography, glass work, lapidary and metal work. Sand casting glass is the Sharpes’ newest venture.
Their handiwork is now on display at Sharpe Creations on Frink Street. Many pieces sit waiting to find a new home, while others are in varying stages of completion around the studio. Everything in sight was made by one or both of the Sharpes as their “mascot” Lulu, a rescued Weimaraner, looked on from her couch.
“We can work with many types of mediums,” John said.
“He does the big and medium stuff, and I do the small stuff,” Venetia added.
They had to sit back and let the contractors do the work over the past 2 ½ years as they renovated the gallery and studio space. John recalls that he bought the old building on a bit of a whim.
“I thought I was going to have him committed,” Venetia joked.
The Sharpes would have lost square footage that was grandfathered in if they’d demolished and simply rebuilt since Frink Street had been widened in the years after the building was constructed in 1952. In the midst of tearing down a wall to open up the space, John said the roof started to cave in despite the wall not being load-bearing.
“So we got creative,” he said of his and the contractors’ plans.
In the end, the original concrete walls, concrete floor and one toilet are what remains from the original structure. The ceiling was raised from six feet to nearly 20 feet, and the walls and ceiling were painted white in contrast to the black floor. Sharpe Creations features plenty of character in its outdoor décor, too, that includes two friendly skeletons, a 9/11 sculpture John created and a large question mark cutout that tells people they will find unusual items inside.
“I wanted to go with an … industrial look,” he said.
John’s vision of what the space could be came to life for the first time April 1 at the grand opening celebration. Sharpe Creations was also a part of the annual Columbia Open Studios, a driving tour of local studios held April 5 and 6. The Sharpes said they had a good response from the events and from craft shows at which they have shown their wares in recent months.
Sharpe Creations items also can be found in several shops in the Charleston area.
“We want to come up with a product line we like and others like and mass produce it,” John said.
Many customers who drop by the gallery gravitate toward items that lean a little or have small imperfections, even though the Sharpes are hesitant to sell things that don’t represent their best work.
“They told us that’s what makes the items unique,” Venetia said.
The ceramics creations that are not symmetrical do end up being some of John’s favorites. If the clay begins to form too thin and flops or bulges to the side, he typically won’t try and force it back into line.
“I like to go with the wobble to see where it goes,” he said. “I take it as a challenge.”
Visitors are welcome to the studio as long as they don’t interfere with production. The Sharpes are planning a few specific events for people to come watch them throw clay, sand cast with glass and create pottery with raku, a process that takes just-fired clay from a kiln and immediately puts it into a container of combustible material to create a unique effect.
“We want to add value in the form of art,” John said.
“We’d like to see this area become the ‘arts on Frink’,” Venetia said.
A selection of pottery classes are in the works after the Sharpes received numerous requests. Venetia said they plan to keep the offerings small and likely will start next year.
“We want to get along with the other clay folks,” John said.
The gallery shelves are nearly full, but the Sharpes plan to keep pushing themselves to fashion items that stretch their personal creativity and inspire their customers.
“The most important thing to me is the process of creating something,” John said.
Call (803) 446-7000 for more information on the one-of-a-kind items at Sharpe Creations. The studio and gallery is at 904 Frink Street.