One of the perks of living in the Shenandoah Valley is the constant view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that paints the landscape with every sunrise and sunset. These sights serve as inspiration to local potter Kassy Newman, who sells her work in Harrisonburg.
With a studio that overlooks the mountains, Newman uses the colors and landscapes of the Shenandoah Valley as her muse. Her plates, bowls and mugs display the blue-purple color scheme found in the area.
“Where we live is such a beautiful place,” Newman said. “I just love living here, and I feel totally at peace when I’m up there in the mountains with my dogs.”
Newman first got into pottery while attending Bridgewater College and continued to use its art studios after graduation. After bartending for several years at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, Newman decided to follow her passion after a successful art show. She became a full-time potter and now has her own studio. She makes and sells her work through Larkin Arts.
Larkin Arts is a 4-in-1 center for artists where they can buy supplies from their store, take classes and get involved with studios and galleries. Some of their artists, like Newman, work on consignment — they can sell their artwork at art shows and markets put on by Larkin Arts.
“Our mission is to create opportunities for artists to show their work, make their work and sell their work,” Valerie Whitten, co-owner of Larkin Arts, said. “We want to educate the public on the value of art and what goes into it.”
Newman participates in five to six of their art shows a year, though most of her work is sold through her Instagram. While she plans to keep her artwork local and only sell around Harrisonburg, she has recently created a website to help with sales. Larkin Arts also sells her work, and her mugs can even be found at Black Sheep Coffee. While they do sell several mugs at the coffee shop, Newman’s are the only handmade ones.
“The community here is so supportive, caring and giving to artists that live here,” Newman said. “It always blew my mind that people bought my work; from the beginning, I always felt like I had a good support system.”
Beyond selling her work, Newman also teaches pottery classes at the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center on weekdays. At first, she worked at the center in child care, but after the previous pottery teacher retired back in January, she was asked to fill in.
Newman said that even though verbally teaching physical movements can be challenging, it’s worthwhile. Even though she’s still nervous about being new to the artist community and to being a full-time potter compared to others, she loves the experience of meeting new people and learning how to show others how to create. As for future endeavors, Larkin Arts plans on adding a ceramics class — though there is no official start date yet — with a four-wheel pottery wheel, and Newman will be the first instructor to teach it.
“[Kassy] has grown so much as an artist,” Scott Whitten, co-owner of Larkin Arts, said. “We’ve watched her really come into her own and create this work that’s spectacular and neat, and people really love it.”
Despite having only been a full-time potter for a year now, Newman has made an impact on the artist community through her art market appearances and new teaching positions. Both Larkin owners have stated how genuine her work is, and how her raw talent has continued to grow since continuing to develop her pottery.
“She’s wonderful to be around and I think that joy goes into her work and you can feel it when you use a Kassy Newman mug,” Valerie said.
Newman plans to continue her full-time pottery career — both creating and teaching — this upcoming year. She has no plans to expand the business and wants to keep it small so the artwork remains genuinely hand-crafted and cared for by her. Rather than having it be a career, her work remains a passion, where the physicality of it all continues to be her favorite part.
“It’s so easy to get wrapped up in this everyday grind and hustle, but it’s so important to do what makes you happy,” Newman said. “We spend too much time doing what we hate, so find a way to do what you love, because it’s possible.”
Contact Brittany Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.