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Small Business Profile: Ruby's Clay Studio: Artistic Safe Space

Etsuko Bram takes a turn at the wheel. Ruby’s will hold their “Bowlicious Annual Ice Cream Social Benefit” from March 10-21.

By Daniela Przybyszewska

When Ruby’s Clay Studio first came to life, founder Ruby O’Burke’s primary goal was to create a space where people could learn technical ceramic skills and artistically express themselves. Now, more than 40 years later, her vision still lives on.
O’Burke, a Mills College graduate, was a Northern California ceramic artist. She established the workshop in 1962 and wished to provide a supportive environment for other ceramic artists to develop their craft. Ruby founded the studio as a private school but in 1985, two years after her death, Ruby’s Clay Studio became a non-profit organization.
Located at 552A Noe St in Duboce Triangle, the studio offers ceramic classes and rental space for professional artists to gather, work together and share ideas. It also has a gallery where the unique work of the artists is being exhibited. The beautiful pottery, the ceramic human heads and faces, the exotic wall art to name a few, feed one’s mind and soul and awaken a desire to learn more.
Assistant Manager Marnia Johnston explains that everyone can sign up for classes and that  previous experience is not required since different levels are being offered. “Classes fill up pretty quickly. The class is just once a week but you can come any time during the eight-week course and practice. During this period you learn so much,” Johnston said. “The hardest part in the beginning is to learn how to place the clay in the center of the wheel, but when this skill is mastered, the new students are already able to share some work with others.”
Ruby’s Clay Studio is also proud of its outreach program for other non-profit organizations, disabled individuals and schools. One of these programs is the Mud Bus, a mobile ceramic studio that goes to different schools to teach children the art of ceramics. It is equipped with everything needed for conducting classes outside of the studio. “We get responses from the children saying how much they love this program. It is different, it’s not something the schools normally offer,” Johnston said.
To many people Ruby’s Clay Studio feels like home. “We have people who have worked here for 10 years, for 20 years, and they are here every day. It definitely feels like community. We are blessed to have this place,” Johnston explains. She went on to say that sometimes even old members who remember Ruby stop by and talk about her. “They come and talk about their memories of Ruby. They always say that she was sweet but strict at the same time. She was very serious about the classes, and if students wanted to learn, they had to practice and couldn’t skip classes,” Johnston said.
Currently, Ruby’s Clay Studio has just opened the registration for the April-May session, after which it will be preparing for its summer sculpture session. There is individual help offered for students with some experience. But, as Johnston says, even people who have never done any ceramic arts can learn if they put effort into it. And the results can be pretty rewarding.

Ruby’s Clay Studio is located at 552 Noe St # A.