Grace Calleja didn't take her first pottery class until her senior year at Boston University. The Key West native was majoring in graphic design, but felt immediately at home behind a spinning potter's wheel, wrist deep in wet clay and coaxing a stunning assortment of bowls, mugs, platters and dishes from an otherwise unremarkable lump of clay.
The possibilities were endless, and the finished products more lasting than the paper images created by graphic designers.
"I realized I could make things that people would use and keep, rather than designs on paper that usually get thrown away," said Calleja, centering a pound of clay on the wheel and dipping her fingertips in a bowl of water.
After more than a decade of working in a studio in her parents' car port in Key West, and selling her pottery online and in local shops and galleries, Calleja this year opened Rubies & Clay studio gallery with jewelry designer and glassblower Lois Songer.
The two women had both had their work in the cooperative Gallery Key West in the 800 block of Duval Street, which closed a few years ago.
"This had always been my goal to have my own studio with a small gallery to show and sell my work," Calleja said. "And this is definitely a working studio. It's fun because people can watch us work and see the whole process."
Her pottery wheel and Songer's design and assembly station can be seen from the sidewalk out front, often drawing in curious pedestrians, who are constantly delighted by the contents.
Rubies & Clay is also a teaching studio. Calleja and Songer offer classes and workshops for would-be potters, jewelry designers and bead workers.
"The class aspect is one of our primary focuses," Calleja said.
There are private wheel-throwing sessions for students aged 8 through adult, as well as teen and adult handbuilding classes for clay and special workshops.
Songer will offer "make-and-take classes" in which students are able to take home one or more pieces of jewelry that they start and finish during the workshop sessions.
Her work includes glass beads boasting tropical, island colors, and delicate necklaces and bracelets made of semi-precious stones and sterling silver pendants of star fish and other highlights.
"I took classes in Toledo, Ohio, which is sort of where the studio glass movement started," Songer said, adding that she works with Murano glass from Venice, Italy using an age-old technique for glass blowing known as lampwork.
Calleja recently has been using a technique called sgraffito that involves carving an image into clay and then glazing the piece to create two-tone motifs in relief. Calleja gets constant inspiration from her hometown, and has created a series of coffee mugs, plates, bowls and dishes showing Key West's ubiquitous bicycles, fish and Conch cottages in a variety of colors.
Rubies & Clay opened Sept. 1 at 529 Whitehead St., near the intersection of Appelrouth Lane. The building has been vacant for six years, but now is infused with colorful light from Songer's bead work and whimsical, clay designs.
The two artists painted and renovated the whole space and are clearly pleased with the results.
"We've had a really, really nice response," Calleja said, adding that the studio also carries photographs, jewelry, paintings and glass designs by local artists Abigail Houff, C.G. Groth, Ronetta Krause and Kim Workman.
For more information, visit www.rubiesandclay.com.