The Way We Were: More than 50 years of artistry


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A pottery demonstration in the 1970s at Fashion Square Mall for a weekend showcase. (Photos courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

For over half a century, the City of Orlando Pottery Studio has been a bright space where creative hands have turned clay into extraordinary things. One of the finest pottery studios in Central Florida, they provide a safe atmosphere where individuals of any age may explore, invent, learn and create pottery at their own pace.

In 1963, Ann Robinson and her husband, Danny, relocated from Valdosta, Georgia, to Orlando. Danny had been hired by Martin Marietta. Ann, a recreation specialist, taught a myriad of subjects and approached the City of Orlando’s recreation division, convincing them they needed a pottery program. They let Ann set up in the 1938 WPA-built Davis Armory, which then became home to the Orlando Downtown Recreation Complex.

Wearing gloves to protect her hands, Cheryl Battiato pulls hot ceramics from the ashes of the Turkey Lake Park pit fire, an annual event which began in 2000 and lasted 9 years. Color continued to develop in the surface of these ceramics for weeks after firing.

The pottery studio occupied one multipurpose room where they offered courses in pottery, painting, drawing and sculpting. According to Ann, at that time, there were no other similar offerings in Orlando. Ann agreed to work as a volunteer, charging just $10 for 10 weeks of classes, which the city allowed her to keep as payment.

The studio also offered courses in Ann’s other passion, belly dancing. Ann worked on a volunteer basis for years before officially becoming an employee of the city.

Ann worked at the studio until 1984. Upon her leaving, it ran on a mostly volunteer basis for three years. One participant, Kimberly Lemonakis [Miller], wanted to improve the condition of the studio and to help teach children’s classes. She reorganized the studio, and, in 1987, the first official Kids’ Summer Art Camp was held. Lemonakis was hired in 1988 as the studio’s coordinator.

That same year, Lemonakis held a small fundraiser inside the building. This idea spread to a larger fundraiser at Fiesta in the Park and continues on today. Selling donated pots and potter’s seconds (less-than-perfect work), the studio has been able to raise money to buy much needed equipment and supplies.

Around 2007, the Families, Parks and Recreation Department moved into its new location on Primrose. The pottery studio took over the vacated offices for a classroom and also acquired the large 4,600-square-foot warehouse on the property.

This was also a time when budget cuts were taking place, and the studio became threatened by closure. Classes were developed to generate revenue. Family Pottery Night became a hit, and, in 2009, a new series of adult-instruction classes were immediately popular.

The effort was enough to thwart a shutdown, and, in 2010, the studio merged with the Recreation Division. After 26 years, Kim Miller retired in 2012. During her last year she hired Jason Sugiuchi, who would assume management in 2013. He had come from a commercial-art background in theme parks and custom homes. Since then, the studio has enjoyed a surge of renewed interest in the art of pottery and membership has grown considerably. In 2021, the Pottery Studio will be relocated to the repurposed Grand Avenue School allowing for an even greater expansion.

The studio offers a variety of programming, workshops, date nights and more for interested people of all ages and skill levels. For more information about the Pottery Studio visit www.orlando.gov/pottery

Jason Sugiuchi manages the City of Orlando’s Pottery Studio. Article adapted from the Orange County Regional History Center’s Reflections Magazine.

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