We are Ellen, Michael, MaTt and Grace Koplow and we are Howard County residents living in Ellicott City/Columbia since 1980 having fallen in love with the area after Ellen & Michael’s graduation from the University of Maryland. Michael is originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and turned in his high school sports officiating whistle (after years in banking, working in and owning a business, and being a stay-at-home Dad) to purchase and operate The ClayGround after the horrific flooding in Ellicott City in July of 2016 (more on that below). Ellen, originally from New York, when not at The ClayGround, is General Counsel for an on-line financial firm and Grace lives in New York City working in the media/advertising industry since her graduation from St. Mary’s College in Maryland. And then there is MaTt…who, in reality, is the reason all this started.
MaTt is a graduate of McDaniel College and with his passion for history, animal advocacy and the arts (specifically mosaics) found himself living in Old Ellicott City (OEC) in the Historic Howard House, about 100 feet from The ClayGround. Old Ellicott City has always been an attraction to all of us, especially MaTt, who reveled in the history (his major in college) and its uniqueness. Prior to the flood he worked and volunteered in the mornings at the Maryland Counsel for Special Equestrians, an equestrian therapy organization located a mile up the road in Catonsville, and in the afternoons, “set up shop” working on and selling his mosaic pieces at The ClayGround.
And then came the flood. It was a horrific event that caused loss of lives, significant structural damage to OEC, and a tremendous emotional strain on many.
While the actual structure of the building that houses The ClayGround was not damaged due to the flood waters, there was significant damage to the area. Old Ellicott City was shut down for weeks; streets were closed, utilities turned off, auto and foot traffic came to a halt, businesses were destroyed and boarded up, and residents displaced – one of which was MaTt who temporarily moved back home with us. As it relates to the ClayGround, the owner at the time decided that she wasn’t going to reopen after the flood. In fact, we remember the day that she told everyone of her decision and started to pack up and return artists’ works.
The day prior, Matt was involved at MCSE with trying to save a horse with colic that ultimately had to be put down. Matt doesn’t say much, but when he conveyed her decision to close up shop, the look in his eyes told us that his heart was breaking. So the next morning, on our 6 a.m. walk of York, our 7 year old black lab, with coffee in one hand, leash in the other, walking side by side, I turned to Ellen and said, “I’m thinking of doing something pretty silly.” And her response was, “You’re thinking of buying The ClayGround, aren’t you?” And immediately followed that with, “So am I.”
Who would do such a thing? The City was dark — little if any power or water, with everyone still in the throes of cleaning up and trying to make sense of next steps. In fact, we had spent the two weeks after the storm cleaning up MaTt’s apartment and seeing how we might be able to assist others with their shops in various states of disarray. And of course, the roads were closed to both auto and pedestrian traffic. Seriously?!! Who and why…?
That afternoon, we began negotiations and about a month later, we re-opened the doors under new ownership— September 23rd as a matter of fact.
And why did we do it? There are lots of reasons and most of them revolve around what has become our mantra: The Experience.
—The ClayGround had over 25 local artists that displayed their beautiful and unique artwork. For many, it was their only retail outlet. And we believed that the Gallery full of artwork laced with the stories of the artists was too wonderful to just let go.
—The ClayGround provided classes in pottery wheel throwing, clay hand-building, glass fusion, and mosaics, which were very popular not only because they were a good time and BYOB, but also because the classes were, and are, GREAT! And we thought that to let that experience disappear would be a shame.
—And of course there were the instructors who taught the classes. Most were students from Towson University, majoring in Art, who had an opportunity to not only work in their field of study (a rarity), but who also loved the opportunity to teach it to others. How cool is that?! So that just couldn’t go away.
—And there was Bree Hughes – a fantastic friend of MaTt’s, glass fusion teacher and all around great person who helped run the store and was an integral part of The ClayGround. We certainly couldn’t let her get away.
—And there was Old Ellicott City – a vibrant and wonderful experience in and of itself that we knew, along with everyone else in the community, the County and the State, was going to pick itself up, brush itself off and with a lot of hard work and attention, come roaring back to continue to enrich all of its stakeholders. We knew we could be a productive part of that community and wanted to see it prosper.
So we did it.
We now exhibit close to 40 artists at the Gallery, all of whom have terrific stories of their own to share through their work. We have expanded the number of instructors to teach our classes. We encourage couples, friends and family to enjoy the experience of learning to create something wonderful while enjoying each others company. We welcome all and enjoy fostering an environment where people are meeting each other in an inviting and stimulating environment. We are reaching out to Home School’ed families to provide course work for their art requirements through classes in clay and glass. We are reaching out to special groups who might find therapeutic benefit through the various types of classes we offer. And in general we just find that it is a very happy place, with our goal that people always leave with a smile having had a wonderful experience. What could be better?
So whether it is the joy derived through the studios’ offerings or the works in the Gallery, or just by coming in for a cup of coffee and to pet York…#experienceit.
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Hope to see you soon.
Michael, Ellen, MaTt, Grace …………………………and York