Geared toward the clay audience

In the 21 years since Ceramic Castle opened, droves of customers have made this bastion of clay and painted imagination their creative home.

Operated by Ellen and Bill Francis, the shop claims customers who’ve been regulars for up to 20 years.

On a recent Tuesday morning, several regulars were at work painting clay objects, many of which were gifts, in a weekly workshop.

Thelma Agras, 82, was painting a bride and groom cake topper for a relative’s wedding when the head of the groom detached and fell, drawing several laughs.

Ceramic Castle’s patrons, many of them women, sit at desks that have become theirs. Paints sit on shelves with centerpieces, garden fixtures and Christmas decorations.

“You don’t have to be an artist,” owner Ellen Francis said. “It’s a more paint-by-number thing.”

At 56, Cynthia Cordero is the young one in her group. When older ladies struggle to paint intricate details, Cordero, respected for her china-painting skills, lends them her eyes.

Edwina Hughes said she won’t make a doctor’s appointment or travel out of town if she’ll miss a Tuesday workshop session. She is enthralled by the creative process, watching something evolve from a piece of clay into fired shiny item that they all find sitting on their desk when it’s finished.

“I can’t tell you the feeling of pleasure and accomplishment when you go through all these steps and you see that sitting on your table,” she said.

Linda Putnam, a regular for the last 20 years, hasn’t let medical problems deter her.

“This class has been my therapy. We could go on for hours and hours,” she said. “Most of it is love and friendship.”

Maria Krauter-Ford has been a mainstay at Ceramic Castle for the last 10 years. She commutes from El Monte, where her reputation in the neighborhood is for her frontyard fairyland, with clay treasures and creatures she’s made at the shop that attract nearby parents and children who admire them on walks. She’s also the animal lover, with several pets and a gorilla — her husband, she joked.

“I love every minute of it,” she said.

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