Art alumnae’s business fills needs for local ceramics artists - The University of Tulsa
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Art alumnae’s business fills needs for local ceramics artists

Maddie Schmidt (left) and Jessica Walker (right)

When Jessica Walker (BFA ’17) and Maddie Schmidt (BFA ’18) were students at The University of Tulsa School of Art, Design, & Art History they would always talk about opening their own gallery or art supply store. After years of studying and working together, the dream has become a reality.

Booming Art Scene

Although Walker’s emphasis was in photography and Schmidt’s in painting, the pair received exposure to different media during their time as TU students. “If we could have done it all, we would have liked to,” said Schmidt. “We both love any aspect of artwork, creating art and being creative.” The small class sizes gave both the opportunity to work closely with other students and their professors. Walker recalled the help Associate Professor of Photography Dan Farnum gave her with professional skills, such as writing and communicating about her work. “At the time, I maybe took that for granted, but going into the professional world, I definitely felt like I had an edge,” she said.

During this time, the Tulsa arts scene was beginning to flourish, and the department rolled with the changes. “The School of Art really tried to be flexible, and that taught me to be flexible in my working life,” said Walker.

This emphasis on the development of multifaceted professional skills was by design. “An academic major allows students to focus on a particular area or skill, but the liberal arts foundation we provide allows them to have a broader understanding of the world in which you will be living and working,” said Michelle Martin, director of the School of Art. “This strategy allows our students not only to be successful artists but gives them the skills to be business savvy.”

After their graduation, the two alumnae worked together on more than one occasion, eventually becoming artists-in-residence at Red Heat Ceramics. There, they noticed that local artists and schools would order their supplies online or drive out of town to get them. “A lot of people were having to spend a lot of time trying to get the supplies, so that’s time that takes away from making the art,” said Walker.

That was the genesis of Ruby Clay Company.

Ruby Clay Company

Establishing a business was no easy feat. “It would be nice if there was a checklist of ‘This is exactly what you need to do and apply for,’ but once we got through that, it was smooth sailing,” Schmidt said.

The hardest part? Finding a brick-and-mortar location. With the spatial requirements for a ceramics business, and with many of the downtown locations being broken into smaller spaces, the search for a store was more difficult than anticipated. They would eventually land at 409 E. Eighth St., which had enough room for five kilns, new shelving, a manufacturing and packing area, space for glazing and gold-leaf products, and a picnic table out back. The front of the store, meanwhile, has a space for artists to purchase glazes, tools, and other products, as well as an art consignment area for people to support local artists.

When the day of the grand opening finally arrived, both were thrilled that people they didn’t know came into the store. “It’s actually happening,” said Walker. “This isn’t just something our friends told us was a good idea.” Eventually they recruited fellow Arts & Sciences alumna Lauren Robinson (BFA ’21), whose steady hand applies the 22-karat gold to their product, and Devin Curry (MFA ’19) who collaborated with them to make a candle line inspired by female artists.

What’s in Store

“We would love to have our own clay body or multiple glazes someday,” said Schmidt. As the list of supplies they offer artists and educators continues to grow, the alumnae hope to one day offer firing services as well. “That was part of our original plan,” added Walker. “We use our kilns that we have for production, so we will need to add a kiln when the budget allows.”

“Our art program here at The University of Tulsa is designed to educate the entire student. We teach our students to communicate effectively, think critically and instill a sense of resiliency,” said Martin. “Maddie and Jessica are just one example of alumni who have taken what they learned and applied it professionally. They recognized a void in their community, and they filled it.”

Inspired by Maddie’s and Jessica’s contributions to the Tulsa art community? Check out TU’s School of Art, Design, & Art History areas of study to learn how you can positively impact the art world.