Article By: Paul Long
Photos By: Josh Triggs
You don’t have to be artistically inclined to complete a project at the Polka Dot Pot in Old Town Winchester.
All you need is a creative spirit, an enthusiastic attitude and a willingness to try new things.
The Polka Dot Pot, which bills itself as a “create your own art studio,” has been a popular destination for the past several years for people looking for unique holiday gift ideas as well as those interested in learning a new skill or two.
“People want to come in and relax and not do anything that’s too complicated,” studio owner Emily Rhodes said recently. The studio recently moved into a new location at 157 N. Loudoun St., next to the Snow White Grill. Rhodes says the new store is actually about 600 square feet smaller than the previous one, but it features more table space, more tables and a party room that is more private.Rhodes, a former special education teacher, was a stay-at-home mom when she launched her new venture in 2002 with a friend who was also a stay-at-home mom. They worked out of a small space in Berryville for about two years before the business moved to Winchester and set up shop in Creekside Station.
Rhodes moved to Old Town about five years ago. Until recently, she operated out of a storefront just down the walking mall from her current location. Then, with her lease about to expire, she learned that the storefront at 157 N. Loudoun was about to become available. She acted quickly and was able to relocate in June.Making a gift at the Polka Dot Pot is a process that requires some advance planning. For example, a project involving clay usually requires about three weeks to complete. But if Rhodes can help speed things along to help her customers, she usually will.
“Basically, I always push the deadline as close as I can for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and Christmas,” said Rhodes. “I can run some rush loads through. I need at least three or four days when it’s really busy and crazy before a holiday. But most everything, like the pottery, takes a week to get back.”
Often, Rhodes said, a customer will come into the store knowing they want to paint something for a holiday gift, but they may not have a specific idea in mind. That’s when Rhodes can help with a suggestion or some colors to work with.
“If they’ve seen something online, we can help them with that,” she said. “Or we have tracing paper we can use. We can help them with a lot of different things.”Christmas ornaments are one of the most popular offerings at the Polka Dot Pot, but they don’t always have a holiday theme. Rhodes said Star Wars ornaments were a huge hit last year, and this time around, she plans to start working on them early in order to keep up with demand. Rhodes makes these ornaments themselves.Rhodes recently began offering board art in her store – essentially, custom-made signs for either a business or a home. Some families like to add their own fl air to a sign that might hang from their mailbox or on their porch. And, since it’s a new concept, at least for the Polka Dot Pot, Rhodes plans to offer classes for customers looking to see what board art is all about.
The store will also offer classes that will focus on completing one particular project. A plate adorned with the words “Choose to be Happy” has been a big hit, and so Rhodes plans to teach interested clients how to make one for themselves. Other classes will focus on various artistic techniques, such as paper masking.Rhodes expects these classes to begin in the fall, after she is finished moving into the new location and getting situated there.
“With classes, it’s a matter of finding a time that works for everybody”, she said. “And so what I’m going to do now is, instead of doing it on one piece, I’m going to offer the technique, and then you can do it on different pieces.
“The Polka Dot Pot is almost always open during special events, including the Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom Festival. But, rather than planning special activities to tie into these events, Rhodes prefers to open her doors and let the public see what her studio is all about. Then, when the dust has settled, those people will often return to work on a project.
Rhodes doesn’t mind venturing outside her store to connect with the community. During the Christmas season, she often visits preschools and elementary schools to help children create their own ornaments. Recently, she even went to a brewery for a project that involved painting beer mugs.
Rhodes hosts three weeks of summer camp through Frederick County Parks and Recreation, one in June, one in July and one in August. And Girl Scout troops sometimes come in to work on their pottery badges.
On the second Monday of each month, from 6 to 9 p.m., the Polka Dot Pot hosts Ladies’ Night. Women bring their friends and, sometimes, dinner from the restaurant of their choice. “They can just sit and relax and paint,” said Rhodes.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Polka Dot Pot offers art for homes-choolers, a program that benefits Rhodes as well as the children who participate.
“Whenever I find a new project, I like to use my home-schoolers to see how it goes,” she said. “Because they’re flexible and they have time to sit there and say, ‘okay, how is this working.’ The projects come out really cool, and they enjoy it.” Also, one night per month throughout the year, she hosts a Kids Night Out. Parents can drop off their kids and go shopping, head out to eat or just enjoy some quality time together while their children eat pizza work on a canvas painting or pottery painting project.
There’s usually something going on at the Polka Dot Pot, but the studio’s busiest times vary depending on the time of year. “Summer is totally different from fall,” Rhodes said. “Summer, we’re busy from Monday through Friday, and we’re slower on the weekends. And then, once kids get back to school, we’re slower during the week and we’re busier on the weekends, because that’s when we have our parties. And we can do two to five parties in a weekend, so that kind of ups the numbers.”
The Polka Dot Pot recently started offering Art to Go kits, a concept which is just getting off the ground. The idea behind the kits, according to Rhodes, is that they can be given as gifts. The recipient paints a pot and brings it back into the store to be fi red, or, if that isn’t necessary, the kit might come with acrylic paints so it can be finished at home. “It’s a cool little gift,” Rhodes said, “because we have some nice pieces.”
Rhodes may not have an artistic background, but she’s been making up for it since she launched her business. She belongs to an association of pottery studio owners which meets once a year to offer classes that teach new techniques. Members frequently chat with each other on Facebook and Rhodes occasionally visits other studios to see what her peers are doing.
Pottery studios are scattered throughout the region, Rhodes said, and so her customers come from a wide area, ranging from Martinsburg to Woodstock to Purcellville to Ashburn. Many travel more than an hour to visit her studio.
Christmas is the busiest time of the year at the Polka Dot Pot. Perhaps surprisingly, Father’s Day is next, followed by Mother’s Day and Halloween.
“The moms are always thinking about the dads,” Rhodes said, “so Father’s Day is bigger than Mother’s Day.”
Holiday-themed gift ideas available in the studio include lighted Christmas trees and pumpkins for Halloween. Customers can also paint ceramic footballs with the colors and logos of their favorite team, whether it’s the Washington Redskins, Virginia Tech or West Virginia University.
The Polka Dot Pot is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.
For more information, call 540-722-4422 or visit polkadotpot.com.