In 1988, potter Michael Smith invited a small group of peers to his home to share ideas and further explore the art of clay manipulation. After just a few meetings, the group quickly grew to include around 70 craftspeople, who started meeting at the Kansas City Art Institute instead of inside Smith's giant conch shell. These regular get-togethers laid the groundwork for the initial incarnation of KC Clay Guild, a place where artists could socialize, buy materials in bulk, and learn from one another.
Now, the volunteer-run co-op is even larger. It occupies its own facility and has vastly expanded the number of services it provides. Amidst the changes, KC Clay Guild has remained true to its initial goals, guided by a mission statement to support the clay community. Artists of all skill levels enroll in classes that cover an array of techniques, such as wheel throwing, hand building, and slip casting. Members take part in regular meetings, open-studio time, and monthly shows, and visiting artists stop by to lead workshops and repair their ceramic automobiles. The guild even offers a scholarship to high-school seniors and hosts birthday parties, team-building exercises, and family-fun nights for casual potters.
Fire. Hammers. A pottery wheel. Some of humanity’s most elemental and primitive tools, yet into the 21st century they remain. And Craft Alliance Program Director Susan Donahue Yates attests that they’re some of the coolest. With each season’s catalog of classes, some of the most popular, according to Yates, let students play with fire, hammer metal into jewelry, or shape a lump of clay into something as fundamentally beautiful as a baby seal mimicking the Mona Lisa’s wry smirk.
At Craft Alliance, the focus is art in all its forms. Whether the tool is the raw flame fusing cut copper or a Mac loaded with Photoshop image-editing software, the intention to inspire and to create remains the same. Its two locations schedule seasonal terms with four- to six-week classes, as well as intensive workshops and children’s classes. Guiding each student along his or her adventure, skilled faculty instruct from experience. Most are working artists who exhibit their work and who have reaped their experience from the trenches of the art world.
Craft Alliance is not just empowering people with knowledge; they are also helping people make mugs, bowls, wooden spinning tops, rings, rugs, and digital photo albums. Many of these things are practical and serve a functional purpose. But many do not—they’re just beautiful things, like vestigial tails. A good number of these pieces are created by hand and are meant to remind us, as Yates remarked, that everyone can do something different from their everyday, workaday lives by adding beauty to a world that truly needs it.
The student and faculty artists backbone the Craft Alliance community, which in 2014 celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Grand Center location represents a regeneration of an arts district already pillared by the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, and St. Louis University.
Veteran shutterbug Cara Dee Stucke honed her artistic eye in 27 years in the portrait-photography field and today attends annual workshops and seminars to stay abreast of modern techniques. Along with fellow photographer Mark Gilmore, Cara Dee snaps elegant, contemporary shots of weddings, families, and high-school seniors using high-tech equipment such as 21.5-megapixel sensor cameras and light-bending hand claps. Before each photo session, the creative team can proffer wardrobe and makeup consultations, taking time to heed customers' requests for the overall vibe of the shoot.
On-location sessions voyage into the tranquil confines of nature for a romantic ambiance, and shoots in the CaraDee Photography studio allow for edgy, urban-theme photos with self-provided props. Images make their way onto prints of all sizes, emblazoned on top-quality metallic or lustrous papers, custom-created books, and videos replete with music.
For more than 60 years, Zeke's Paint & Design Centers have been outfitting do-it-yourselfers with the paints and tools they need to give their homes chromatic makeovers. Zeke's preferred brand of paint, Benjamin Moore, can be mixed to perfectly match the preexisting colors on walls or breathe new life into boring pieces of Renaissance artwork. The store's commitment to professional-grade products doesn't stop at paint; finely bristled brushes, rollers, and supplies from brands such as Purdy and Corona ensure even coats and minimize the need for later touchups. Resident experts share helpful tips for do-it-yourself projects and can even point visitors in the direction of trusted professionals for more complex jobs, such as re-creating The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of a dog's house.
Makes Scents carries more than 75 perfume oils in scents such as açaí berry, chocolate, china musk, and wild ginger that allow customers to mix and match to create customized fragrances. They can blend these extracts into an aromatic perfume or cologne spray, or infuse them into bath and body products that include bath and shower gels, shampoos and conditioners, mineral-rich lotions, and massage oils. Many of the products are also paraben free, and come unscented as a gentle alternative for individuals with aroma-sensitive allergies. Makes Scents carries many designer-inspired oils for men and women in familiar fragrances such as Gucci Rush and Dolce & Gabbana, and also stock its shelves with other products from brands such as L’Occitane, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Root Candles.
ImPulse Fitness' passionate instructors center their classes on camaraderie and supportive energy. Bootycamp fitness classes combine resistance and cardio training to sculpt muscles into toned masterpieces. A veteran Zumba instructor leads international-rhythm-inspired workouts, getting participants to sweat in the original universal language of dance aerobics. The turbo-kick class combines aerobic exercise with muscle-building martial-arts moves, and Vinyasa flow and Hatha yoga classes home in on body, mind, and spirit. Students can also develop abdominal prowess and articulate bellybuttons during shimmy-inducing belly-dance classes.