Claymobile Clay Story: Mara Conroy Hughes

Did the Claymobile visit your school when you were younger? We want to hear your CLAY STORY! Contact today. 

Mara Conroy Hughes was first introduced to The Clay Studio at the age of 13 through her participation in the Claymobile Educational Outreach Program. She participated in the program in 1994, its very first year of existence. The Claymobile had partnered with the recreation center in Roxborough, near Manayunk. Mara remembers that her Claymobile class was made up of students from age 6 through 14, and that it seemed like a big group of kids at the time. “The experience was phenomenal,” she says, “and I was even invited to take a Saturday teen class at The Clay Studio on scholarship. This opportunity was thrilling. My mother allowed me to stay after class for open studio time. It was amazing to be 13 years old and able to watch and learn from adults making things in clay.”

Mara says that prior to her time with the Claymobile program she had taken art classes in her Catholic school, but that projects were primarily two-dimensional, mostly drawing. This aspect of art did not excite her, but she fell in love when she began to work in clay. She says, “For the first time, I gained an understanding of the labor of art. Clay is a craft that demands certain routines, but also allows for thinking and creativity. This synergy made me aware that I could be successful in art. I can honestly say that without the Claymobile, my appreciation and desire to create art may have never happened.” 

After high school, Mara went to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY to study creative writing and literature. Her love of art did not subside, and during her junior year of college she studied at the School of Visual Art (SVA) in New York City. She took night classes at SVA, while working full time in publishing during the day. After a full day of work, Mara would go into the studio and work on figurative sculpture and tiles: “It was such a relief to get to the studio at the end of a busy work day. It is amazing how you can be physically exhausted from one activity but then be full of energy for another. Making art allowed my brain to work in a different way, and it was a great way to reduce the stress of the day.”

Mara became a high school English teacher after graduating from Sarah Lawrence, teaching juniors and seniors in a racially diverse urban magnet school. Although this work was rewarding, it gave Mara very little time to write and no time to make art. Teaching made her begin to think seriously about education equity and the vast difference of opportunities afforded to students of varying backgrounds. “I understood that this is really what the Claymobile program is addressing,” she says. “The Claymobile helps to balance the educational playing field by bringing arts experiences to students attending urban and under-funded schools.”

In January of 2012, Mara moved back to the Philadelphia area to begin a Ph.D. program at Rutgers University in education theory, organization and policy. In thinking about how to integrate herself back into her home city, The Clay Studio immediately came to Mara’s mind. She signed up for an intermediate handbuilding class with Michael Fujita on Wednesday mornings.

Once again, art and The Clay Studio have become a respite for Mara. Her Ph.D. program keeps her very busy, but she enjoys her time in the Studio and has met many kind and supportive fellow students. Mara plans to continue her ceramic work next semester, even though she says that she is playfully teased for needing to miss class or leave open studio hours to attend to her studies. Mara says “it is nice to reenergize with something that was very formative for me in my early life. This is rarely a possibility, and it is interesting to do so with the knowledge of someone with experience in education. It has made me appreciate The Clay Studio, and the young artists who are going out and teaching with the Claymobile program, even more.”

Thank you for your CLAY STORY Mara, if you have a CLAY STORY contact us today!

Share your Claymobile “Clay Story” with us!

Did a van marked “Claymobile” visit your school when you were a student? Did you create a ceramics project that you still have? Do you still think fondly of clay art class? Did you have a good time—or even a bad one? Are you an artist today? A doctor? A scientist? A chef? Are you, you? Did you learn something from creating art that you’d like to share?

We want to hear your clay stories.

The Claymobile has grown up like you have. We will turn twenty in 2014 and we’d like to know what impact we’ve had on our community. Every year it is a struggle for The Clay Studio to keep the Claymobile’s wheel’s rolling. Between PSSA testing and the day-to-day problems of urban schools, we fight to be in the classroom. The Clay Studio is devoted to fundraising and breaking past the red tape because we believe art education is a fundamental tool to learning and growth, and something every student in Philadelphia has to right to have! Offering no-charge ceramics residencies where we can, and low-cost ones where we cannot, the Claymobile program has worked in partnership with more than 250 neighborhood institutions, providing the opportunity to create ceramic sculpture to over 19,000 students.

The Claymobile was probably in your life for a short while, we are usually only able to visit a school for a short artist residency; six to twelve weeks–and we often are only able to work with one grade level or even one class. If you appreciated Claymobile classes and you know how important art education is please get in contact with us. No story is too big or too small, even if you just want to say “hello” and tell us what school you went to—we’d love that! We want to hear from principals, teachers, students . . . and you.

How can you get in contact with us to share your story?

1. E-mail or call Annette Monnier, Outreach Program Director to share your story or arrange for an in-person/phone-call interview.
215.925.3453 x 15
Photos of you or your ceramic work are greatly appreciated.

2. Download Claymobile Clay Stories, fill it out, print, and mail it to The Clay Studio:

The Clay Studio
c/o Claymobile
139 N 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

or you can fill it out, email it to:

3. If you would like to share your story in person, we will be hosting several “story days” at The Clay Studio this year. Please subscribe to our blog feed and like us on facebook for updates!


Guerilla Mug: Dan, Jessica and Neil Respond

“I attached a self picture and I apologize for the poor quality.

The mug is absolutely fantastic. It suits me perfectly- It’s big. It’s blue. It’s got flaws. And it’s a piece of functional art! I chose it for these very reasons. And I was fortunate enough to get one made by a Philly artist, so it is the perfect souvenir for my trip into this wonderful city. It was this experience of receiving a free mug from friendly people that changed my perception of Philadelphia. What a great town and great people!!!

Thank you so much. Dan”

Dan received a mug made by Michael Connelly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“I was in Philadelphia for the screening of the documentary, CIRCUS KIDS, by the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival at the National Museum of American Jewish History. I am an affirmed coffee addict and was thrilled to come upon the Guerilla Mug Assault. I got mugged with a beautiful poppy mug by Justin Rothshank. I chose the poppy mug because coffee is my addiction and also because it was such a lovely mug. I was thrilled. I am happy to say the mug made it back to St. Louis with me!

Thank you!
For Harmony (and Coffee!)

Jessica Hentoff”

 Mug made by Justin Rothshank in Goshen, Indiana.

Mug made by Ron Philbeck in Shelby, North Carolina

“ just moved into new offices last week, and we still have a limited supply of coffee mugs (and, as the photo shows, even a more limited set of furnishings) . So, it was great to run into the Mug Assault team outside Old City Coffee this morning and pick up a mug.
It’s sure to be one of our favorites.

On Pottery: Munemitsu Taguchi

Questions posed to Pots at Rest curator Munemitsu Taguchi

What compels you to make dinnerware?

I am a potter, and like potters before me I make the objects of everyday domestic life.  Where I diverge from the historical potter is in my intent.  My goal is to make objects that are attractive at rest yet completed through the addition of food.  I want to make objects whose beauty is defined by their form and their function.

Installation image

What is the relevance of handmade dinnerware in the 21st century?

In my opinion one of the defining characteristics of handmade is that every object has been considered as an individual.  Through the manual manipulation of material a piece of the maker, good or bad, is infused into the object. If a maker is open to making changes to their work based on formal and utilitarian need (research and development), handmade object can possess all the aesthetic qualities the maker wishes to express while simultaneously being the best functioning objects for daily life.

Why did you choose the work/makers that you did for your display?

John Williams, Tumblers, 2012

In looking for makers there were many to choose from, the first thing I did was look in my own cabinet. There were only four different makers easily accessible (Paul Eshelman, Bryan Hopkins, John Williams, and me), so excluding myself I chose them. Next were objects that I wanted but have not had the opportunity to acquire (Ben Krupka and Shoko Teruyama).  The last two are contemporary makers whose worked has profoundly influenced me in some way (Peter Beaskecker and Mary Louise Carter). Although this is by no means the only work I like, it seemed like an appropriate sampling of my taste in contemporary handmade pottery.

Guerilla Mug: Laurent Bass Responds


Laurent Bass of Old City sent us a note that said “Thank You.

No more words were needed as he attached an image of himself at home with his new mug made by Philadelphia artist Ryan Greenheck. Thanks for participating in our project Laurent. Enjoy the mug!

Maker Ryan Greenheck received his MFA from SUNY College of Ceramics @ Alfred University, Alfred NY. He Currently lives and makes in Philadelphia.

Did you receive a mug during the Guerilla Mug Assault? Email us at

Guerilla Mug: Marcia Responds

“I was not aware of the Guerilla Mug assault, but stepped out of Gia Pronto this morning with coffee in hand, and saw your set up. I thought at first you were giving away the usual corporate “logo-ed” mugs as a sustainability message, but immediately saw ART in front of me when I got close enough. I love my mug, I love what you’re doing and you made my day.

Thank you!!!


Marcia received a mug made by New York resident Stepanka Horalkova

She is a self-taught ceramic artist, focusing her attention on working with porcelain. Her work is all hand built, mainly using slabs and ranges from standing vessels and abstract forms, to wall pillows, wall sculptures and functional pieces.
She employs earthy oxides, stains and glazes to compliment her simple forms and whimsical drawings.


Guerilla Mug: Peter Crimmins Responds

Yesterday The Clay Studio was paid a visit by Peter Crimmin’s; WHYY’s  Arts and Culture Reporter. Not only did he tape a radio segment (that broadcast this morning) and write a post for about the Assault, he also followed up today by emailing about his experience using his new mug!

Here are my two cents….

The problem: At some point in the course of my job, I received a promotional mug from Melitta, purveyor of fine European coffee. In my office we have one of those single-cup coffee dispensers. However the large, black Melitta mug doesn’t fit beneath the dispenser (pictured). I have to remove the drip pan every time I want to get hot water for tea.

The solution: my new Ryan Greenheck mug fits nicely. (pictured)

The first time I used the Greenheck mug was to drink tea during a meeting. As is common during work-related meetings around a long conference table, you need to do something with your fidgeting hands. Doodle. Point accusingly. Claw at your chair’s armrests. But Greenheck made this mug with a comforting rounded body, perfect for cupping with my palms, keeping my hands out of vocational harm’s way. And calm hands mean mean calm meetings. After the tea was drunk, and the cup started to lose its warmth, I loved the salt-fired texture of the mug. The very subtle roughness kept my fingers rubbing it.

However, the diameter of the mug is too large for me to grab it around in a fist, and gulp with the handle pointed away from my mouth. This one insists on being held by its handle.

I love the way the ridged, all-white surface catches different shadows of light.

Great piece of work. Thanks Greenheck.”

Thank you so much Peter. You have made us very happy.

Submitted by Peter Crimmins, WHYY’s Arts and Culture Reporter

Guerilla Mug Assault

Today, The Clay Studio  hit the streets of Philadelphia.  Stationed at six different locales with both foot traffic and an abundance of coffee shops, teams are giving away 500 beautifully crafted handmade ceramic mugs to 500 individuals with disposable cups.  A tag attached to each mug includes information about the project, the mug’s maker, and The Clay Studio’s blog address with a statement encouraging the recipient to post about their new mug (email


The Guerilla Mug Assault is part of a larger project titled Made by Hand.  The project began in August 2012 with two exhibitions: Derek Au – Recent Work and Pots at Rest. The exhibitions explored both obvious and subliminal associations one may draw with tableware including nourishment, the sharing of food, social hierarchies of dining, and these objects abilities to serve as reminders of people, time and place.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge is a three year, $9 million initiative funding innovative projects that engage and enrich Philadelphia’s communities. In 2011, Out of 1,752 applicants and 36 winners, The Clay Studio is honored to receive a $15,000 matching grant in support of the Guerilla Mug Assault.

On Pottery: Lorna Meaden

Questions posed to Pots at Rest curator Lorna Meaden

What compels you to make dinnerware?

Dinnerware is the most fundamental and basic of functional pots. Individually, the pieces that make up a dinnerware place setting (cup, bowl, and plate) are the pots that get used every day. I’m interested in my work being used. Formally, making dinnerware is compelling in terms of how form and surface can translate from piece to piece, making the whole worth more than the sum of its parts.

I’m also interested in the dinner table and its place in our culture. I think it is important for us, as human beings, to have meaningful interaction on a daily basis. In a world where interaction often happens in venues such as Facebook, I think that handmade objects and “real” interaction are becoming valuable in a way that they have not been before.

What is the relevance of handmade dinnerware in the 21st century?

I believe that handmade dinnerware has, and always will, have a relevance to everyday life. Because utilitarian pots are connected to sustenance, they will always share a connection with what it means to be human. When they are handmade, they further this connection through being unique and individual. These are values that are intrinsically human. As makers, it is our responsibility to keep handmade dinnerware relevant in our culture.

Why did you choose the work/makers that you did for your display?

My display is a cabinet. When asked to be a curator for this show, I thought about the cabinets in my kitchen, and what was important to me. My favorite (and most used pots) cabinet in my kitchen is full of cups that were all made by different potters. The cup is one of the most often used pots. I thought it would be appropriate for a collection of cups to be represented in POTS AT REST. Being a potter that soda fires, I appreciate atmospheric fired work. I chose a range of makers that I respect. It is a pleasure to be a part of this exhibition.

On Pottery: Elizabeth Robinson

Questions posed to Pots at Rest curator Elizabeth Robinson

What compels you to make dinnerware?

What I find most compelling about making dinnerware is its ordinariness. Bringing a cup to our lips as we scan the computer screen, scraping a spoon across a bowl to get that last bit of soup, piling a big salad up on a plate… these ordinary moments that occur all through the day sustain us, but are often unconscious or rushed. A handmade pot brings a level of consciousness to these moments, both through the act of its making, and in the fact that it has been brought home.

In use, a handmade pot is both special and ordinary at the same time, somewhat like the astounding experience of life with a child, his presence momentous, you reflect, as you wipe the poo off his back….

What is the relevance of handmade dinnerware in the 21st century?

In a nutshell, I think contemporary pots are about the people who make them. And owning handmade pots is as much about the relationships, real or imagined, that we have with their makers, as the objects themselves.

The time is long past when a humble pot, dug from local clay and fired with fuel found nearby, was the most practical way to fulfill the functions of daily life. Yet there are still people digging clay by hand, firing with wood. Why? There is romance and nostalgia in the act of making, and nostalgia and desire fulfilled in the act of owning.  Clearly there is still a need to make, and a need to own, these objects- and, in both cases, a very real human connection between the maker and the consumer. It’s stating the obvious to say that connection between the things we own and the person that made them is missing in today’s culture, of course we’re each striving to fill that void in one way or another.

Making pottery today is almost a symbolic act, practically a performance- the careful making of a functional object, its display and marketing, the point of sale, and where it ends up- a collection or a museum sometimes, often in someone’s home, perhaps carefully displayed, but more likely stacked in a cupboard. What then? Do they become family heirlooms? End up at the thrift store? Get broken and end up in a landfill? As someone who has made thousands of cups and bowls that have gone out into the world, I know my body of work is in all these places, and I find that fascinating.

I’ve walked across a desert mesa treading on pottery shards hundreds of years old. Though their culture has disappeared, the remnants speak of both a single person and her culture. I think handmade pots still do that work today, giving cultural clues to their time and place, playing witness to their role in society.

Why did you choose the work/makers that you did for your display?

Picking work for this display was very personal. The work itself I love, but the connections I have with each maker spans the time I’ve been working in clay. Some of the artists are dear friends and mentors, some are people I’ve met who’ve made an impression, helped or encouraged me, though they may not remember who I am; and some aren’t even acquaintances, though their work I find inspiring. It is the personal connections that happen between an object and its origin that I find most meaningful.

Here’s what I mean:

As a beginning pottery student in Virginia, while learning about the incredible history of Asian pottery, I also became enchanted by the Southern folk pottery traditions whose roots were closer to home.  I drove south with a group of friends to look up potters from the traditional family lines, and also visited Ron Meyers at his home.  There I bought the very first handmade pot I ever owned, and it is in use in my home to this day.

A number of years later Sanam Emami and I were traveling across country, visiting potters and trying to learn what life as a potter was all about. Sanam and I had gone to school together, majoring in more practical things before deciding to totally switch career paths…. Among the many inspirational, generous and kind people that welcomed us into their studios was Linda Christianson, who, in addition to showing us around and selling us some great pots, fed us spaghetti and let us camp in her yard. She, and the other potters we met, really made clear that this life is mainly about having a driving passion to make pots. Her work is layered and nuanced, but pares everything down to the basics- clay, fire and utility.

At one point I was ready to abandon pottery altogether for the security of life as a bank teller when Diane Kenney, whose work in both majolica and the wood kiln I’d noticed in a magazine several years before, hired me as an assistant at the Carbondale Clay Center, which she had recently founded. She has been a mentor and friend for the last 15 years. She’s helped me ‘grow up’ both in the clay world and the ‘real’ world; in fact, I often refer to her as my ‘clay mother.’ Her soulful and joyous spirit and work have always inspired me.

Cruising the exhibitions at NCECA many years ago I fell in love with a group of jars made by a recent resident at the Anderson Ranch Art Center named Michael Connelly. I couldn’t believe it when years later I found myself working with him at the Archie Bray Foundation one summer, where I also met Josh DeWeese, and bought the mug that I have used almost daily for coffee since 1999. While there I also became familiar with the work of Beth Lo, who doesn’t know me from Adam, but whose nostalgic imagery with its familial narratives and homage to her heritage has fascinated me for years.

Returning to the Clay Center as Program Director after graduate school I met Steven Colby, a resident artist just out of undergraduate school at the time, who was, and still is, making intuitive, painterly work that makes me feel, as he often states on his blog: that “I wish I made it.”

When Lisa Orr, whose molded, sprigged, intensely drippy pots, seduced me at an NCECA show in Dallas, invited me to be a guest artist at her local studio tour- Art of the Pot, I was surprised and honored to hear that she had been drawn to material qualities of my work as well. While in Austin I met Ursula Hargens, who loves the play between material and design, cultural references, and flowers as much as I do. At Lisa’s house I kept picking up pots and asking who made them, and, more often than not they belonged to Leanne McClurg, whose sensual work has a visceral quality, depth and soulfulness that seem to match the person I’ve only somewhat gotten to know.

Some of the pots on this dish drainer belong to people whose work I have admired for years, but have come to know primarily through social media- their blogs and Facebook. I love hearing about the shows they’re in or a recent firing, seeing pictures of their kids and hearing about their vacations. I am intrigued by Connie Norman’s use of text, something that intimidates me. I also admire the juggling act she pulls off among mothering, blogging, teaching and making work, and that in addition to this she drove 2 hours to go to the opening of my solo show in Denver this spring, where I finally got to meet her personally. In addition to the fact that I can’t help but love the childlike flower garden that sprawls across Kari Radasch’s work, her earthy use of terra cotta clay and the recent, fairly dramatic transformation she has made in her work inspire me as I feel my way toward a new body of work myself. Michael Kline, a contemporary southern potter, makes work I want to use every day. He digs local clay and fires with wood, and paints flowers on his pots, and raises chickens, is a family man and basically seems to fulfill every fantasy I had about making pots when I took that trip to North Carolina and Georgia 20 years ago.

I have no personal connection with Jenny Mendes and Shoko Teruyama other than the simple fact that I love their work. Love, love, love. And sometimes that’s just all it’s about. I cover my pots with imagery, but they use do with seemingly reckless abandon something I’ll admit I’m still afraid to really embrace- drawing.

Clearly, most of the artists whose work I chose share my love of lush, layered surfaces, color, and in some cases images with a decidedly nostalgic and decorative bent.  Yet I think within each person’s work there is also evident a blatant honoring of the material, a nod to process, and even an element of restraint, as well as a clear awareness of the context and cultural references of his or her own work.

These plates and cups stacked together embody what I love about contemporary pottery, and especially what I love about being a potter. Each piece is a carefully crafted object, worthy of contemplation and care. Each dish is ready to sit with me during those ordinary moments of the day when I feed myself, adding beauty and specialness to what is often rushed, haphazard, or mundane, whether it’s that first cup of coffee in the morning after a late night in the studio, a quick snack as I rush out the door take my son to school, or a carefully prepared dinner. Each pot is also partly the person that made it. That pot in your cupboard, or on the mantle, is a relationship which started with an introduction, or an attraction.

I have a lot more pots in my cupboard and more stories to tell, but I’m grateful for the chance to put together this small group of favorite pots.