As residents and visitors to the South Fork gingerly, or boldly, enter a new normal, private events and smaller gatherings where social distancing is possible are in. Now two longtime friends have combined their respective small businesses to create Clay Camp, which offers a two-hour course in hand building and throwing, rolling and whirling on a potter's wheel. Afterward, clay campers receive a finished, glazed, and fired piece.
Cameron Bishop, creator of Beau Rush Ceramics, and Jess Baker, founder of Color Wheel, which makes use of a recreational vehicle, met in Montauk a decade ago when they worked at Ruschmeyer's Hotel and Restaurant. Ms. Bishop holds degrees in fine art and worked in the nightlife and art worlds in New York City. "Then I got pregnant with my child, Beau," she said this week, "and switched from fine art to functional art out of necessity, to stop working in nightlife and make a living."
Friends who owned or managed restaurants asked her to make tableware, and a business was born. In the Instagram era, "restaurants started having more handmade plates," she said. "That was to make the photos better and the food look better, and that is mainly what my ceramics are." Her works are available at Warm on Main Street in Amagansett.
She and Beau — Rush is the middle name of both — moved to Seattle two years ago. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Beau Rush Ceramics went to an e-commerce model. "Jess, meanwhile, had a parallel life in L.A."
A Miami native, Ms. Baker also worked in hospitality and events in New York City before spending a few summers in Montauk. "We became close," she said, "and then I moved to Los Angeles — I realized how much sunshine helps the world, and my world, and I wanted that year round."
Ms. Baker's Color Wheel is in a 1975 R.V. outfitted as a mobile nail salon. Her business, often on-site service at events and production sets, was just getting rolling early last year. With so much commercial activity suddenly halted, "I sat back and thought, what else can I do with this amazing space? I wanted to make it a collaborative studio space for creatives and people who wanted to test out different ways of expanding their businesses. And here we are."
"We had worked together out here and lived out here before," Ms. Bishop said, "so we wanted to come back and be with our friends after being isolated on the West Coast, especially after Covid."
In the spring, Beau Rush Ceramics and Color Wheel's founders decided to join forces. They offer private clay camps and, two days per week, lead classes for guests of two Montauk resorts.
"We come, we show up with everything you need, and then we drop off your finished work 15 days later, after it's fired and glazed," Ms. Bishop said. "You actually get something out of it. If you ever wanted to try the wheel, or try making something with ceramics, you can't, really, unless you commit to, like, a six-week class, or if you drop your life and enroll in a program. I wanted to make it more accessible. And I was over being in the studio with only a few people, working alone. I was ready to come out and be around people and share this knowledge -- I could talk about ceramics all day, I love it. It's nice to be able to combine that with Jess's knowledge of events."
"Private events was the way to go," Ms. Baker said. "Everyone was stuck inside; now it's summer and you want to do something outside. Clay is messy and fun and emotional, we say, so it's a nice outdoor thing to do. A hands-on, tactile thing; it can be meditative."
Adults take to the classes as much as children do, Ms. Bishop said, and classes for adults can feature cocktails using the Illegal Mezcal brand.
"Especially after Jess was completely shut down with her new business, it was, how can you be flexible and still be actively starting a company?" Ms. Bishop said. "This is also why we did it like this, because classes can be up to 18, or it can be five. It can be quite private."
Beau Rush also offers clay kits for retail sale, comprising a piece of canvas to work on, about eight pounds of water-based clay, and instructions, all in a neon tote bag. "You can do it on your own," Ms. Bishop said. "Then we pick it up and fire it for you."
"Having lived out here a few times before, and with all of our friends in New York, it was an easy decision" to return, she said. "It felt really natural to us, because we're social, we have this history of working for amazing nightlife companies or events, restaurants, and chefs. It's been pretty exciting."