By Tara O’Neill
A blithe spirit enchants 1555 Shadowlawn Drive. It twists in the trees, sparkles along the garden paths, and nests just out of sight. It is whimsical, satirical, certainly tropical, and definitely spiritual. The sign out front reads The Clay Place. And it couldn’t be anything but.
Time for a field trip! From the parking-space blocks, through the gate, under and over the fences, and all along the dappled footpaths, clay prevails; it is all-enhancing. It’s even imbedded in the walls and floors of the bungalow-style buildings that make up the studio-gallery compound of artist/owner Jim Rice.
Yes, that Jim Rice. The one who opened Naples first professional clay studio in 1973, the one who has sold brilliant hand-painted fish platters, plates and bowls in over 200 stores nationwide. The same one who has created tiling for staircases, fountains, furniture, murals and pools in public and private buildings all over the country. He’s hardly a secret.
So, you find yourself asking, what exactly is she uncovering?
The Clay Place. That’s what. A venue without rival for delight and convenience. One block west of Airport Road and a half block north of Davis Boulevard, the property (once the site of Naples’ very first veterinarian) is a tiny island of tree-canopied old-growth gardens wound through with decorative paths that lace together gallery, studio, kiln house, and assorted outbuildings of mystery and mischief. The city’s cacophony gives way to tickled chimes and fluted birdsong. I am not making this up.
My favorite trailside tableaux involves what appears to be ancient barnacle-encrusted cannons salvaged from shipwreck. But how could he have so many? Because he makes them. Out of clay. Hey, you’d have been fooled, too. And by the way, I do not recommend asking how the barnacles got there.
In the spacious gallery you’ll find cannons that open into platters, chili pepper wall hangings that double as serving bowls, and all manner of colorful hand-painted service ware. It is the crossroads of function and fine-art. Jim enjoys making pots that belong in everyday living “and aren’t too expensive, so if they broke it, it wouldn’t kill them.”
THE BIG EVENT: every March the Clay Place hosts Five Painters and a Potter: artists Jerry Vallez, Phil Fisher, Paul Arsenault, Jeff Fessenden, and Natalie Guess join Jim for a celebration of art, music, food and drink. Do not miss this event – I’m going next year, so I’ll know.
The Clay Place: 239.775.1078, Mon.-Fri., 10 – 4PM, Sat., 10 – 2PM – www.naplesclayplace.com
Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. Contact her through www.tarao