Merritt Ceramics is Making Clay Working Cool Again for Oakland Communities

Let's get our hands dirty, gang.

It’s safe to say that most people haven’t taken an art class or workshop since high school...or even before that. So, why should you get your creative juices flowing again as an adult? Because it’s hella fun, stress reducing, and, best of all, you won’t get graded. (We promise.)

Enter Merritt Ceramics (named after nearby Lake Merritt), a ceramic arts studio in Oakland that’s granting us the opportunity to try something entirely new and to meet locals in the community. And at Bob Cut, we are all about that Bay Area pride.

Founded by local artist Anna Krengel with her friends Stephen Ruby and Katie Swan, Merritt Ceramics is a place for everybody—whether or not you have ever lifted a clay-covered finger. Offering classes for all ages and skill levels, the studio is all about community at the core. And this mission is reflected all over the studio space: a collection of charms made by First Friday visitors to go up in the trees surrounding Lake Merritt, bags of clay with students’ names on them that are ready to be molded into something entirely new; the communal Oakland mural in one room that is a half-realistic, half dreamlike interpretation of the East Bay. We got a chance to visit the studio and chat with Krengel about the Oakland community and getting over the fear of trying an art medium for the first time!

What inspired you to start a ceramics studio with community as its focus?

It was after the election that we wanted to provide a safe space for people to create and to feel comfortable expressing themselves. Oakland is such a diverse and vibrant city, so if we can bring all walks of life together to start conversations through a creative outlet, what better place than a ceramics studio! Clay as a material comes from the earth; it brings you back to something simple and then is up to the individual to transform it into endless possibilities.

Walk us through what free clay night at Merritt is like! What would a newcomer expect? What might they be surprised to find out about the experience at the studio?

First Tuesdays at Merritt Ceramics are kind of like an art party! Most people who walk through the studio doors have never worked with clay before. As more and more people arrive, the space becomes full of life. Just like Oakland, the city is the people who fill its spaces. If clay isn't your thing, we bring in a local artist to guide you through another art project. You might be surprised to find that making art isn't as tough as you thought and maybe someone else is going through a similar experience to yours…

You also offer team building events, how do they differ from the regular classes you offer?

Team building events are catered more specifically for the size of the group and what the company/party they are coming from. If it’s a group of colleagues coming from the office, we usually organize a small planter workshop so they can make something to brighten up their desk. We had a group of women come for a baby shower and we had them collaborate on a large wall hanging for the baby’s room. Team building events are great for more collaborative projects and we can organize more open-ended and quirky workshops. Clay is fun solo and it can be even groovier when you work together.

For people who are new to working with clay, what skills might they develop taking a series of classes?

So many! Clay helps you to think creatively about constructing what’s in your mind. It teaches you patience and sometimes how to "let go". Mostly, it reminds us to slow down and do something that brings you joy and to play!

So I heard that you love Korean BBQ - what’s your favorite restaurant in the Bay that Bob Cut readers have to check out this summer?

For Korean barbecue in SF I would say Han Il Kwan in the Richmond, and in Oakland I would say Jong Ga House by the lake! I’m hungry now.

What are you waiting for? Go check out a class or workshop at Merritt Ceramics and then grab some Korean barbecue afterwards. Or before.

// 527 E 10th St., Oakland,

Contributing writer and editorial assistant to Bob Cut Mag, wannabe Francophile, and peanut butter ice cream addict exploring and sharing the best the Bay Area has to offer us!

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