At Clay Connection, 714 E. Sprague Ave., visitors are greeted by a dog or two or five. They are welcoming and curious and might even add to the texture of the clay with a chew mark or a paw print.
Another welcoming site is the adorable 2-month-old baby with bare feet and outstretched arms strapped to Kelly Rominger’s chest, and the handful of artists diligently working on lumps of clay.
This is a place where playing in the dirt is encouraged and where, four years ago, Rominger reinvented herself.
Rominger, 36, grew up in Los Angeles and then Reno, Nev., where in high school she joined the Explorers through the Reno Police Department, who gave her a partial scholarship to Gonzaga University. She studied criminal justice and psychology with an emphasis in serial killers and sexual predators. For the next 15 years, she worked in her field.
About 12 years ago, Rominger, in search of a creative hobby, began beading.
“The process of stringing and weaving is very rhythmic and relaxing,” she said, “It’s also neat and can fit in my lap.” She started selling her work at local festivals and venues because she was so prolific. About seven years ago, she began learning how to shape glass so she could make her own pendants, and her hobby became a passion.
About four years ago, she called the Clay Connection to inquire about materials to make an urn for her mother’s ashes. During the conversation, Rominger learned that the Clay Connection was on the market.
“I took a leap of faith,” Rominger said. “My mother always wanted me to make art and her death had me thinking about the brevity of life.” She gave her two weeks’ notice at the Washington State Community Corrections office and became a full-time artist and business owner.
“I have changed a lot since I purchased the business,” she said. I was very cynical about human behavior, and very black-and-white on most issues. I have met so many amazing people with so many different views about everything.”
Now her black-and-white view is filled with color and texture. She turns beads into jewelry and forms glass and clay into functional and decorative items, including custom tile work. She also recently had a commission from the city of Spokane to make a recycling award.
Newly reinvented as an artist, Rominger is only now beginning to call herself one; being surrounded by other creative people has helped as she watches them turn piles of clay into an array of expressions. “It has been encouraging and inspiring,” she said.
On Aug. 7, Rominger will exhibit her jewelry, glass and clay pieces during a wine and art event at Max at Mirabeau Park Hotel with other members of the Clay Connection.
“The community that has been built over the years is very strong and supportive,” Rominger said. “It has become an extended family and I hope that everyone who visits the Clay Connection feels that way.”