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Inside Bulloch Business with DeWayne Grice - Wanted: An apprentice at Free Spirit Pottery
Grice-H-DeWayne Web
DeWayne Grice

            Step back a little over a decade ago and downtown Statesboro was experiencing a rebirth with the completion of the renovations of the Averitt Center for the Arts and the Emma Kelly Theater.
        Those projects brought a lot of excitement and new businesses to the downtown area. One of the businesses that opened back then was Free Spirit Pottery on East Main Street.
        Owner Ann Walsh was retired after she and her husband John sold their countertop business. Walsh was ready for a new challenge and really wanted to explore and expand her creative side. She loved to travel and visited similar shops in downtowns and tourist areas throughout the country and felt it would be a great fit with the resurgence and creation of the arts district downtown.
        Walsh and Free Spirit have been a wonderful compliment to the Averitt Center for the Arts in providing artistic outlets for kids of all ages and an escape for generations of adults.
        One of the challenges in downtown is creating a unique mix of retail and professional offices that will draw folks to the area. With Free Spirit's unique variety of creative opportunities, they have become a destination for downtown visitors.
        Of course, one of the secrets of the success of Free Spirit begins with Walsh. Not only is she wonderfully creative but she is the kind of person who is always smiling and is just a joy to be around. I am convinced people just come to enjoy Ann's company as much as they do to paint and create.
        "Repeat clients are really what makes it so much fun for me," Walsh said. "I have watched so many kids grow up in my store over the past decade. Kids who experienced some of their first creative projects here have now gone on to pursue incredible artistic endeavors. That small amount of inspiration they received here gives them the encouragement to pursue many of their other artistic abilities. Expanding opportunities for kids and helping them discover their talents is a very special part of this job."
        Initially she offered pottery painting but now has expanded the store to include glass fusion, canvas painting and hand built clay. She also established a reputation for her summer camps both in the store and off-site.
        "A few years ago we began working with the area school systems through the 21st Century Family Development programs to bring summer camps into the school systems," Walsh said. "This has allowed us to greatly expand our reach and impact the lives of so many more children. We have seen children from kindergarten to high school come through these camps and each one of them were engaged and excited to explore their creative side."
        Birthday parties are probably one of their most popular offerings throughout the year. Kids of all ages come and enjoy painting and fellowship as they celebrate together. Even Sororities and senior adults regularly schedule "painting parties" as a social outing.
        "One of the areas that continues to surprise me is how many people from teenagers to senior adults make painting part of a date night," she said. "They go to dinner and then come in for a time of sharing and creating together. They come as a couple or even as a family outing. Creating memories by incorporating hand prints, fingerprints, names and favorite quotes written in each family members own hand writing makes the evening even more special.
        "Silver Clay now allows us to capture fingerprints then fire and polish them to make pendants and other jewelry. This is very popular especially with military members being deployed. Family members of deceased also often commission me to go to the funeral home and capture finger prints for jewelry so they can keep their deceased loved ones close to their heart."
        Ann's husband John and son Patrick have started another countertop business, Walsh Custom Surfaces. The growth of this business has required a good bit of Ann's time, taking her away from Free Spirit often. Being pulled between the two businesses does not allow Ann the time to cultivate and continue to grow Free Spirit. With this in mind, she feels it is time to begin looking for an apprentice that would like to work with her and eventually take over the business.
        "This is a great opportunity for a budding artist who loves children and working with the public. We have worked hard to build a great business that I feel adds so much to downtown," Walsh said. "It would be wonderful to see this continue rather than just go away like so many businesses do."
        I can't imagine downtown without Free Spirit Pottery. My daughter Edie Grace has practically grown up with Ann, and I credit Ann for inspiring her and helping her discover many of her artistic gifts. Of course, she gets it genetically from her mom, but there is something about Ann's ability to make a child love and enjoy art that genetics and environment can't complete.
        If you have interest in owning a great little shop downtown, love to inspire others and want to help contribute to downtown Statesboro's continued growth reach out to Ann at Free Spirit Pottery. We hope to see this wonderful downtown tradition continue for years to come.

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