FREELAND — Whidbey Art Escape, a popular paint-your-own pottery Freeland business, is closing its doors in December after more than 15 years.
Longtime owner Tina Beard is looking for a buyer to purchase the craft store business before she retires. She’s leased the 1,000-square foot space since taking it over from the previous owner about 12 years ago.
“I have many good memories,” she said. “That’s the hardest part about leaving the community that’s been built here.”
Wednesday nights became “Ladies Night” at Art Escape years ago but no one quite remembers when. A group of women show up faithfully to chat, laugh, relax and create. It’s like a clubhouse with invisible posted signs: No kids. No men.
At a recent gathering, some said that’s part of the attraction of Ladies Night. But it’s also the presence of the person behind the pottery.
“Tina is all heart,” said South Whidbey resident Janice Tabb, who’s been a regular for about 10 years. “Tina’s personality makes it fun to come here.”
Over the years, Beard has added glass fusing, silk screen and sketching to the roster of do-it-yourself arts. She’s the consummate teacher, patiently leading first-timers through an artistic pursuit and sincerely celebrating finished pieces of work.
“I’ve only just discovered this group,” said Reece Rose as she carefully arranged small squares of glass. “I really, really enjoy it. I’m disheartened she’s leaving.”
Reece said she immediately took to the process of glass fusing. It requires arranging pieces of glass that are then melted and fused in an extremely hot kiln, which Beard operates. “Most people are not doing the glass,” Rose said, “but I love it.”
Generations of South Whidbey families have visited Art Escape and left with one-of-a-kind bowls, cups and decorations in hand, all painted inside the colorful store.
“I’ve watched many children grow up and come into their own,” said Beard, whose next adventure is driving a recreational vehicle across the country with her soon-to-be retired husband.
Jackie Ballog first visited Art Escape at age 16 when a boyfriend introduced her to the “place for pottery painting.”
“I’m 32 years old now,” she said. “I love this place.”
Beard’s the first to admit she had no arts background when she decided to buy the business in 2006. It had been located in a smaller space next to its current location at 1664 Main St.
“I worked for the previous owner but mostly I was a frequent customer,” she said. Beard says a new owner doesn’t have to have art experience and that she’ll teach the tools of the trade.
Some regular customers admit to running out of room in their home for more hand-painted switch plates, piggy banks and soup bowls so they make presents for friends.
“This was my biggest challenge,” Catherine Vance said, holding up a two-toned vase with bright colors and symbols.
“It’s just a fun thing coming here,” she said of the female-focused night that she only discovered a few months ago. “Everyone visits and chats and every one paints differently. That’s fun to see.”
The many pottery wheels in the back room of Whidbey Art Escape have been transformed into Backdoor Clay Community Studio as of Sept. 1 and will remain.
The business is owned by Kimberly Muller who wants to support clay artists with a public studio space and access to pottery wheels. The studio also plans to offer lessons and workshops.
Beard’s space could also be used for workshops, classes and private events, she said, and it comes with a loyal following.
Whether Art Escape gets a new owner or not, the last paint day will be Saturday, Dec. 15.
Beard knows there are at least 100 people somewhere out there who haven’t used gift certificates and she encourages them to come in soon.
She also wants to remind people with work-in-progress projects to find them or come get them and/or finish them.
Saturday, Oct. 20, might be a good day to come in, Beard said, laughing.
“It’s National Paint Your Pottery Day. Added encouragement to come in and finish your projects.”