Carefully crafted pottery and vibrant stained-glass line the shelves and windows of the Jackson Heights Art Studio, a creative haven for many of Lynchburg’s passionate artists.
Opening officially as the Jackson Heights Art Studio in 2013, this unique neighborhood studio exists to carry out the legacy associated with the building’s long-standing history of devout education and community.
“It’s a really special thing to show up somewhere for the first time and know you are a part of something greater,” Sara Billings, a pottery instructor at the studio, said. “That is the reality we try to create and remind people of every time they walk through the doors.”
Formerly known as the Jackson Town Elementary School, the building was purchased from the Lynch family in 1826 by free African Americans. One hundred years later, in the midst of segregation, the men of the neighborhood built the two-room schoolhouse so the children in the community could attend school, according to Doug Washington, a museum volunteer who presented the “Jackson Town Tour.”
Although the school no longer educates and guides elementary grade students, it cultivates the same spirit of education through creativity for all ages and walks of life.
Currently, the art studio is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday at varying times for pottery classes, and on Thursday evenings for stained glass classes. With 10 potter’s wheels, an array of clay and glazes for creating hand-built wheel projects, and vibrant colored glass sheets for stained glass, the space naturally opens a new door of creative expression for many.
The art space sustains the legacy of shaping an intentional space to educate, learn, and grow by striving to make classes hands-on and supportive, no matter your experience level. Located at 720 Winston Ridge Road, the art space is now a part of the City of Lynchburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“We truly are a small part of a bigger picture with such support from the Parks and Recreation Department,” Brittany Helm, the Community Recreation Programmer for the studio, said. “We are striving to teach people a new craft. Whether they’ve been doing pottery and stained glass for years and years, there is still always something to be discovered.”
Helm was placed in the Community Recreation Programmer role as the studio grew to require more attention. The art space is now professionally managed with full financial support from the City of Lynchburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“It is so unique that the Lynchburg Parks and Rec. department funds this art studio,” Helm said. “It’s not often you see a department with so much responsibility tending to the community the way the City of Lynchburg does.”
In July, the studio closed its doors to participants for an entire month for the installation of entirely new floors. After its final facelift, there will be a grand re-opening on September 3 for the public.
“The renovations are important because we are always improving and expanding and seeking out ways we can improve the space for the sake of our students,” Billings said.
In addition to the aesthetic updates, the studio seeks to ensure that there is a place for everyone by providing participants with a financial assistance program.
“We really try to make our classes accessible. We don’t want finances to be something that holds anyone back from attending a class,” Billings said. “The financial program is how I was able to continue my journey with pottery; it was this very program that helped me start taking classes again while I was in college.”
Billings, one of the two highly skilled pottery instructors at the studio, juggles three businesses while also instructing at the art studio on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
For Billings, the pottery prevails as her “labor of love” and creating a piece is a “long and patient process,” she explained.
“Ideally, I get my students throwing, centering, and creating at least one piece in their first class with me,” Billings said. “The next week you come in, the clay will be in the ‘leather hard’ stage, where we are able to trim it. From there, it goes in for its first firing, then you glaze it, and fire it for a final time.”
Pottery and stained glass alike require patience and focus. Several students unanimously described the classes as “a form of therapy” and “their favorite form of self-expression.”
“Even if you get one piece out of an entire session, there is something so special about being able to engage with what’s in front of you and turn everything else off around you,” Helm said.
Pottery and stained glass, like any experience, has the ability to teach a lesson through simply trying and experimenting.
“Failing at pottery is a practice in and of itself,” Billings said.
“You learn to forgive yourself and realize at the end of the day, it’s really just mud. We want students to leave and realize, ‘I can do this again next week and do it even better.’”
To learn more about the Jackson Heights Art Studio and to sign up for an art class, visit the Parks and Rec website, www.lynchburgparksandrec.com. To keep up with upcoming events, programs, and activities, you can follow along on their Instagram, @jacksonheightsartstudio.