Clay on the Bay Comes to South County

By Susan Nolan

While Annapolis revels in its arts week of paint and performance, artists of a different type are setting up in southern Anne Arundel County.

“Clay and glass arts in particular require a unique combination of science, creativity and teamwork,” says multi-media artist and SoCo ArtsLab board member Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe.

Of the three, the creativity may be the most obvious. Any art media holds endless opportunities to explore forms, colors, techniques and textures. As for the science, it’s all about learning the gravitational force on the clay on the wheel and how the materials respond to the heat firing. As for the teamwork, Rosenthal-Yoffe explains, “Learning these techniques through teamwork and mentorship benefits artists and their work.”

SoCo Arts Lab works to foster all three. The Tracys Landing-based arts nonprofit occupies two levels of a recently renovated 4000-square foot house leased from local businessman Hamilton Chaney. In addition to studios, a gallery and a common room space, the arts center has pottery wheels and kilns in the basement. Currently, 33 artists are members. Eleven of those members use the SoCo Art Lab as their regular studio space.

California-native Rosenthal-Yoffe made a name for herself in New York and New Jersey before relocating to Washington, D.C. Her desire to be on the Bay brought her to Deale, where she was excited to discover an active arts community. “I knew I wanted to be involved with SoCo Arts Lab as soon as I found out about it,” she says. In 2020, she joined the board.

Jeannie Egan is one of five local artists who came together in 2019 to form the organization. Egan now serves as a board member and a resident artist. “The SoCo Arts Lab started with the five of us just looking for affordable studio space…but once we had this space, we knew it could be something much bigger. A community,” she says.

Egan, Rosenthal-Yoffe and the other board members have big plans for SoCo Arts Lab. The building is located on enough acreage to support a sculpture garden, trails, classrooms, and perhaps even performance space. The design work is in place and they are fundraising for the construction of a woodburning kiln to be built in May 2023. “We see this as a potential arts destination that could have a real impact regionally. A cultural hub. We like to call the Arts Lab our ‘little dream Marfa on the East Coast,’” Egan says, referring to the famed arts community in Marfa, Texas.

The organization has been offering classes since its inception. The pandemic created challenges that the group was able to overcome via technology and virtual learning. Now, however, they are eager for more in-person programing.

Clay on the Bay, their largest initiative to date, is set to launch with a day-long open-house on Saturday, June 18.  The event will feature exhibitions and hands-on demonstrations led by some of the area’s most acclaimed artists. Participants will have the opportunity to decorate a hand-made clay cup with special fast fire glazes and possibly take their work home that same day. “There will be a special Raku firing with Ray Bogle who is a member and a Raku expert. He will be running the kiln that day,” Rosenthal-Yoffe states.

Following the launch, SoCo Arts Lab will host a series of “Try It” classes every Tuesday through July 12. These two-hour sessions focus on the potter’s wheel and will give students of all levels the experience of centering, throwing, trimming and surface decorating. Finished work will be fired and made available for pick up after the last class. More extensive ceramics classes will be held on Thursdays.

Memberships to Clay on the Bay are also available. Open to anyone who can navigate a clay studio independently, memberships allow potters unlimited, all-hours access to the studio space and equipment for $50 per month.

Additionally, ClayMates: The Invitational Exhibition of Maryland Clay Artist will be on display with pieces available for purchase through June. Founding member Elizabeth Kendall, a renowned ceramics artist, is curating the exhibit. “Beth is the driving force behind the exhibit and she is bringing in talent from all over the region,” says Rosenthal-Yoffe.

For more information on SoCo Arts Lab and Clay on the Bay visit