The building at 220 North Avenue in Millvale has a long history of inspiring creativity, says Daniel Kuhn.
“The space has always been a making space: In the 1800s it was a forge. Jerry Kitman made and repaired furniture, and now we are here with clay,” says Kuhn, who co-owns Ton Pottery with his wife Aasta Deth.
Climbing rent costs pushed the couple to move their ceramics studio, retail space and gallery to this spot from its original Lawrenceville location in July.
Through a lease agreement with The Millvale Community Development Corporation (MCDC), Kuhn and Deth extensively renovated the former Jerry Kitman’s Furniture building, which was badly damaged in a 2004 flood. That renovation process took 18 months.
“Retail spaces are a hot commodity in the region, and when you put all of the specifics for a ceramics studio on top of that, you can really spend months finding the right space — which we did,” says Kuhn. Ultimately, it was a casual comment from a customer that convinced the couple to check out Millvale.
They saw great potential in the 3,000-square-foot space, but they still had plenty of work to do: rewiring, restoring the façade, building 40 feet of ramps, adding two new bathrooms and updating the building for ADA compliance. Collaborating with Jeff Ault Contracting, they created a space that now serves multiple functions, from a retail and gallery area with 1,200 feet of pine flooring to a designated studio for pottery classes.
“The studio area,” says Kuhn, “is still a rough maker space with the clutter and congestion you would expect.”
He says the expansion is a major step toward fulfilling their mission of facilitating a vibrant teaching space and “creating a community of potters young and old.”
Ton Pottery offers four-, six- and 12-week classes for adults and children in hand-building and wheel-throwing. The studio also hosts workshops, open studio time and “baby and me” sessions. A retail shop showcases potters from the western Pennsylvania region and the doubled square footage makes room for a full fine art gallery.
The revamped Ton Pottery is part of Millvale’s Bennett Station Town Square redevelopment project, which also includes the nearby Tazza D’Oro Café & Espresso Bar and Millvale Studios. The artists’ studio and event venue — which shares a wall with the ceramics studio — is currently closed due to damage from a 2017 fire, but is expected to re-open by the summer.
“We recognize the influence that art and culture have in community revitalization,” says Tina Walker, who served as president of the MCDC when Ton Pottery leased the space. “Our goal is to have the most unique, affordable artists’ community in the Pittsburgh area.”
MCDC is accomplishing this by rebuilding Millvale Studios and supporting the community’s EcoDistrict Plan, which aims to increase access to healthy food, affordable energy and housing, and to improve air quality and public transportation infrastructure.
Ultimately, the goal of all these initiatives is to spur continued economic growth in Millvale — and Walker sees Ton Pottery as a key to the neighborhood’s revitalization.
“Ton Pottery has become a successful business, contributing socially, educationally and economically to the new life in the heart of our business district,” she says.
In mid-March, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts will host its annual conference in Pittsburgh, bringing more than 6,000 educators and artists to town for four days. During the conference, Ton Pottery will show work from artists across the country in the gallery and sell pieces by regional ceramicists in the shop.
Kuhn says he hopes “Millvale will be a hopping town” during the event.
“We love being in Millvale,” he adds. “We feel like part of a community here.”