By Jan Mercker
When Leesburg-based goldsmith Ann Andre was in a creative rut a few years ago, she took a ceramics class from local potter Amy Manson. The friendship that resulted has been especially fruitful for Loudoun’s art scene. The friends and collaborators open their new space, The Clay and Metal Loft, this month.
The studio is a dream come true after several years of discussions for Manson and Andre.
“It’s just meant to be,” Manson said. “We’ve been looking and thinking and coming back to it, and the timing was perfect.”
Manson, who’s known to local art lovers for her involvement with the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour and for her classes offered around the county, was outgrowing her home studio. Andre, who has specialized in precision diamond work for years, was looking to get more creative with her jewelry-making and return to her passion for teaching.
After toying with the idea for years, everything came together in a flash for the artists when they found an airy space in the Virginia Village shopping center near downtown Leesburg. The partners signed a lease Dec. 12, moved in just after Christmas and have scheduled their first ladies’ night workshop for Jan. 11. Weekly ceramics session classes begin Jan. 15, and a range of fun evening workshops, where participants can create everything from metal snowman earrings to heart-shaped dishes, are already listed through March at the studio’s website. The studio hosts its official grand opening during Leesburg’s First Friday celebration Feb. 2.
The studio will operate as a three-pronged operation, including classes, a retail business for both artists (Andre will be selling her multifaceted rings, pendants and earrings and doing jewelry repair work on site, and Manson will showcase her popular functional pottery) and working studio space. The studio will also host monthly featured artists, with Western Loudoun painter Kaarin Nelson’s large-scale paintings on display in February.
For both women, the vision from the outset was to create something beyond a gallery, meeting the public’s demand for engagement with the creative arts.
“You want people to see the studios—that energy has to be there,” Andre said. “It’s not just going into a gallery. … People don’t just want to look, they want to do it themselves.”
Andre is a Massachusetts native who studied sculpture at the University of Massachusetts and Rhode Island School of Design and has been a jeweler for 30 years, most recently working with diamond setting for wedding and engagement rings. But she also does her own fascinating, transformative pieces—rings that become pendants and shape-changing earrings and decided it was time to get out of the commercial setting.
“I wanted to do something more creative,” she said.
Manson is an Ohio native who spent years in North Carolina where she jumped into that state’s booming pottery scene. Manson moved to Loudoun in 2009 and quickly established herself on the local arts scene with her gorgeous yet functional pottery, including charming mugs and her famous beer can chicken roasters.
Both women moved to Loudoun for their husbands’ work, and both are parents of teen/young adult daughters. It was the right time in both women’s parenting lives to launch a big project, and after collaborating on WLAST tours in recent years, they found they worked well together.
The partners have different strengths: Andre is a self-described workhorse who built the studio’s tables and shelves from scratch, and Manson is a communicator with social media skills and strong ties to the county’s arts scene through involvement with WLAST and the Loudoun Arts Council. But, they share a vision and a desire to bring an artistic hub back to Leesburg.
“We’re very similar in the way we approach things, what we want and our focus,” Andre said.
The artists met when Andre took a class from Manson at the ArtSquare arts center, which closed in 2014. And both women are hoping to fill the gap left in the Loudoun arts scene when that space closed. The studio is also breath of fresh air in the ’50s-era Virginia Village shopping center, which was sold to new owners in June, and the location right on the fringe of downtown Leesburg is ideal, Manson and Andre said.
While many of the studio’s workshops are designed with women in mind, the owners will also offer team building and corporate activities and couples classes. And they’re already planning a full slate of summer camps for children ages 7 to 14—including STEAM-oriented options like artistic robotics in addition to clay and sculpture, painting, multi-media, magic and cartooning.
“People want to experience art,” Manson said. “They want to be part of it. … I think that’s what the idea of a working studio is tapping into.”
The Clay and Metal Loft celebrates its grand opening from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at 27 Fairfax St. in Leesburg. Workshops and classes start Jan. 11. For details, go to theclayandmetalloft.com