Have you ever walked by Claydreams, a few doors down from the Fox Library in East Arlington? It’s that neighborhood paint-your-own-pottery store that has a festive jumble of ceramic items in its windows – plates, cups, bowls, trivets, squirrels, dogs, princesses, ladybugs and more. All with swirls and sprinkles of vivid color: light green next to burnt red or shocking orange. It’s a color fiesta for anyone who dares walk through the door!
The yellow walls inside are bright and cheery. On most days, you will find tables filled with children ranging in age from toddlers to teens making something special for family and friends. It all happens by word of mouth and thanks to a great location in walkable Capitol Square. As the name implies, this welcoming storefront was dreamed up by a woman with a vision, owner RoseMary Ardagna who, at 76, has a shock of white hair and twinkling dark eyes. She loves being around people, talking to them, engaging them and helping them make a keepsake for themselves or others. She shares books, ideas and techniques with the customers if they are stuck on an idea or unsure of what to make. She says, proudly and to the point, “I run the whole show.”
Tables are neatly laid out with placemats, napkins, water, paintbrushes and a ceramic plate painted with a color wheel of all the glazes available for painting. It is the color plate that is mesmerizing – each color assigned its spot on the grid – swirling from the center outwards until it fills it up entirely. Choose the clay item you want to paint and then pick your colors. The clay items that are always in stock are plates, cups, bowls and mugs but there are also fun seasonal options. During Thanksgiving it might be turkeys and fall leaves, while around Christmas one might find ornaments or Santas.
RoseMary welcomes people of all ages and abilities and has many faithful regulars. “I love the kids. I love working with the children. I have a senior coming in every week to make something…I don’t scream, I don’t yell, I’m pretty easy. So many people keep coming back, it’s amazing!” she says laughing. She works with special needs groups, and notes “I have a good rapport with them. I have a lot of experience behind me.”
RoseMary is proud of her ability to connect with all kinds of people, and help them make something that expresses themselves: “I’ve even worked with the blind, helping them choose their colors and go back and forth with the brush. I can help people to be their own artist, not necessarily be the artist myself. I think people, when they sit and they paint, they can put their feelings into what they are doing.”
After spending time in her younger years at the Boston Naval Shipyard working with some of the very first computers – Univac systems with punch cards – she tried ceramics and just loved it. She attended many seminars and classes and received certificates. She had finally found something she really wanted to do for the rest of her life. A childhood memory became a touchstone: “The very first time I made something, I took it home and felt like I could not believe I made it. The feeling was overwhelming.”
It was the 1970s when Claydreams was an inkling of an idea. RoseMary’s kids were in school and she did not want to go back to work, so she took over the basement of her home and started ceramics painting classes. She quickly started getting almost a 100 people a week.
You can sense the community nature of this art space, especially in the small checkout counter. It is lined with 4”x 4” tiles that were created by the community. When Claydreams opened at its current space in 1999, customers were invited to paint a tile for the counter space. As a result, there are tiles with just a few colorful bold strokes painted by babies and toddlers; tiles with houses, starry skies, or animals by older kids and tiles with detailed scenery or more intricate designs created by teenagers and adults. This year, she plans to try that idea again.
As the story of her life unfolds, it is clear that RoseMary has never been one to sit still. She has sold Mary Kaye cosmetics and Tupperware. She ran a wholesale ceramics business out of a space in Somerville for years. She volunteers with the Chamber of Commerce and many other civic groups, and leads efforts to raise money for all kinds of charitable causes. She packs up supplies and brings them to classes at Senior Centers, returning to Arlington with pieces to fire. She knits constantly, donating hats and scarves to homeless shelters. RoseMary says that although she can paint and draw, she does not consider herself an artist. But her life suggests otherwise – what she creates in Claydreams and elsewhere are opportunities for people to connect with themselves and each other and make the world a better place.