Millvale pottery studio experiencing 'ton' of growth
Dan Kuhn's family tree has influenced his artistic career.
“My mother is an artist. She did stained-glass windows while I was growing up, and she does some print making and jewelry work. My father is also a writer and was a lawyer. My uncle was a professional photographer,” Kuhn, 41, said.
The Harrison resident “discovered clay” while earning his bachelor's in fine arts at the California University of Pennsylvania.
He would eventually open Ton Pottery ceramics studio, retail space and gallery in Lawrenceville in 2014. Due to rent increases, issues regarding residential construction surrounding his location and other concerns, he relocated the business in July 2017 to 220 North Ave., Millvale.
Kuhn said his experience managing Midland Park, N.J.-based The Wortendyke Studio for four years has influenced his current business plan.
“I did the day-to-day — from mixing glazes, loading kilns, taught some classes, helped in the gallery.”
Kuhn decided to return to Pennsylvania to earn his master's in fine arts from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with the intention of finding a teaching job following graduation. Unable to find education work, over the years, he took a slew of jobs in various fields.
He and his wife, Aasta, who also has a master's of fine arts, finally decided to make a change.
“We both needed to apply those degrees to our livings, so we just sort of decided, I decided to quit my day job, I rented a space in Lawrenceville in an old mechanic's shop and we started there.”
Kuhn's German ancestors inspired his business name — “ton” is a German word for clay, he said.
Kuhn leases the 3,000-square-foot space from the Millvale Community Development Corp., as part of the Bennett Station Town Square redevelopment project. The area also includes Tazza D'Oro Café & Espresso Bar and Millvale Studios, the latter of which is closed due to damage from a fire.
Kuhn said that he and his wife want to make the ceramics studio something that is enjoyable for people of all ages and experience levels.
“Along with the classes and open studio, we also have a retail space and a gallery. We wanted to encompass the entire gamut. I also will do anything in ceramics for anybody: I will fix a kiln for anybody; I will sell them clay or glazes.”
Especially popular during the holidays were “Baby and Me” sessions, in which participants could create ornaments or trays featuring their children's or pets' handprints, footprints or paw prints. Kuhn said that he and his wife know from parenting Sam, 5 and Nora, 3, that “time is elusive” when dealing with young children, so the sessions, available year-round, are scheduled in flexible blocks.
Erin and Russ Bregman, of Spring Hill, have participated in the workshop the past two years with their now 16-month-old daughter, Clara.
“It's an amazing seasonal growth chart!” she wrote on Ton Pottery's Facebook page.
Kuhn said the retail area carries “functional and sculptural work” ranging from $3.50 for an ornament to $1,500 for a sculpture. The most popular items are $20 mugs.
Business has improved by “leaps and bounds” since moving to its new location, Kuhn said.
He also feels a sense of camaraderie with Millvale's residents and entrepreneurs.
“I know all of the business owners by their first names. We all say, ‘Hi' to each other. We sit and chat; we give each other a hard time on the street. It's a community as opposed to a section of the city.”
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.