Meet Your Good Neighbor Front Porch Series: Dongzhu Pottery Studio
When it comes to making ceramics, the challenge is part of the fun. From the handling of the wet clay, to the painting of the glaze, there are a lot of steps that require attention, practice and care.
But when you overcome these little challenges and pull a beautiful, finished vase out of the kiln, you’ve created something magical.
“It’s not for everyone but everyone should at least try it once,” said Lejia Dongzhu, owner of Dongzhu Pottery Studio, located on Middleton’s east side.
Dongzhu’s studio is filled with wet clay and potting wheels, a place where people can discover all the challenges and the magic of ceramics. It offers a series of classes that are open to people with no ceramics experience and it’s a place where passionate artists can develop their craft.
“All of our classes are open to beginners,” Dongzhu said. “You don’t have to know what you are doing, and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t want people to be intimidated to try something new.”
Dongzhu Pottery Studio offers a Saturday night introductory course, a five-week class for beginners and a membership program that allows participants to come in at any time to work with clay.
The studio helps new artists take their craft as far as they want.
“I’ve had students who have never touched clay, come in, take a class, become a member, set up their own studio at home and become a professional potter,” Dongzhu said.
Running a pottery studio can be like creating a vase — sometimes, there are challenges to overcome. Dongzhu opened his first studio in Madison in 2017 and it quickly became a big success, with multiple instructors and full classes. But when the pandemic hit, the studio was forced to temporarily close. It reopened to a limited capacity last year.
Classes that once held 10 students were limited to three or four, significantly reducing the studio’s revenue. But at the same time, Dongzhu noticed that there was more interest than ever in his class offerings. Rather than close, he decided to expand, to allow more workspace and more classes.
In September 2020, he opened the Middleton location on University Avenue.
“I figured that opening up a second location would allow people to get away from their homes and get creative,” he said. “That’s why this happened.”
Dongzhu has long used ceramics as an escape in his own life. He first encountered ceramics in high school. He was introduced to the art by his teacher Phil Lyons, an artist who Dongzhu calls “an inspiration.”
“Not just (an inspiration in) instruction in ceramics but how to be a decent person,” he said. “He went out of his way to give us experiences that no one else did.
“He was inspiring to a lot of people and he is more than a ceramics teacher, that’s for sure.”
Dongzhu quickly fell in love with ceramics class.
“I pretty much skipped classes and went there all day,” he said.
Dongzhu didn’t initially see the business potential of ceramics but returned to the craft after college, just for the enjoyment of creating art.
“I began to wonder how much it would cost to open a studio,” he said.
He took the plunge, opened a studio and worked hard to make the business a success, offsetting some of the cost by making and selling pieces at farmers markets in the area. Eventually the business took off and Dongzhu hired instructors to help teach classes.
One of the instructors Dongzhu hired he knew would be perfect: his high school teacher, Phil Lyons.
About Dongzhu Pottery Studio
6661 University Avenue, Middleton, WI 53562
Hours: Currently only open for classes or members.