Kalamazoo is fortunate to be a thriving artist town and is a wonderfully supportive community for creatives. However, none are quite like the joyful Shay Church.
Church is the owner and founder of Grayling Ceramics, a local ceramics studio and shop on the north side of Kalamazoo. Church graduated from Western Michigan University and then went on to found Grayling Ceramics back in 2014 after he was offered the opportunity to renovate and rent out the current studio space at 213 E. Frank St. Kalamazoo.
“For the last 20 years I’ve considered myself an artist and worked towards that,” Church said.
Church opened Grayling Ceramics two years ago thanks to generous sponsors from Kickstarter, a website where people post their ideas in hopes of receiving funding. Church’s sponsors helped him raise $20,000. This was enough money for him to renovate his current studio space, along with buying kilns and a small amount of raw clay.
Church received a lot of help and support from his family members in making his dream of owning a studio and business a reality.
“I could not do it without my wife Mora. My mother was also a huge supporter in helping me make everything work,” said Church.
Church’s favorite products to create tend to be large and bold.
“The bigger things that I can make on the wheel are my favorites because it’s more work,” said Church
Church definitely enjoys making large pieces of art, including the many life size whales and other animals made out of clay that are left wherever they were built to decay away. He has participated in the Grand Rapids Art Prize and also designed a large whale that is still on Western Michigan’s campus.
However, now in the studio, clay is his media of choice. Church’s best sellers are the handmade beer steins, which may be a natural outcome of Kalamazoo having so many local micro breweries and the city’s love for craft beer.
Church explained how his education, along with his travels, have helped him become a better artist and a better teacher at Western Michigan, where he teaches ceramics part-time. His first goal is to own a profitable business, which for him means “being able to pay ourselves and further invest into our business.”
Church said his second goal is, “to be making really strong and functional ceramics.”
Church explained his company’s stance on product design stating, “We stand for thoughtful design and durable product.” He continued, “We want to make less products and make our current products last even longer than what they already do.”
One of Church’s favorite memories since opening and owning Grayling Ceramics is the overwhelming community of supporters for his work.
“When we have events and seeing people coming down and checking out the studio,” Church reminisced.
Church often encourages everyone to stop by and meet him and check out his studio and store space above the studio. Church explains how he loves to sell his ceramics at the Bank Street Farmer’s Market too because he keeps getting the opportunity to meet new and interesting people that share his passion for art.
“I love that it feels that it’s growing organically, and that we can use our ideas and learn from our customers what works best from them and what they’re looking for to help provide them better products,” said Church.
Church explained how in Kalamazoo “There is a little something for everyone; however, I wish we had a few more galleries and restaurants.” Church continued, “San Jose was the best place to live at and be an artist.”
When asked about what the hardest part of owning a business is, Church said, “Keeping it all together and making it all happen and create a brand and getting through some growing pains.”
Kalamazoo is an amazing place for both small business startups and local artists trying to get their name out into the world. Thankfully, Kalamazoo is a great place to live, work and grow.
Church explained, “Kalamazoo is a very supportive place to open a business. Remember to start very small and see if there is a market for your product or service.”