Crackpot Pottery and Art Studio

Each time I go, I  feel it long before I see it.

 

Its vibration is so powerful, rising up from the stark industrial park and transforming everything it touches it into a colorful backdrop of imagination and whimsy.

 

crackpot facade

What I feel is the creative buzz emanating from the artistic worker bees at Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio. This community clay art center is a magnet for inspired craftspeople, and they use the studio here to breathe life into their ideas.

 

crackpot front studio

Founded by Suzi Huntington and Brent Skinner, Crackpot Pottery is “THE place to be if you’re interested in getting a little dirty all in the name of art and fun,” according to its Facebook page. I decided that I DID, indeed, want to do just that, so I visited the studio for a Saturday drop-in class.

 

crackpot back studio

What’s great about Saturday drop-in classes is that they don’t require much commitment from people like me, people who want to try something new and different but can’t quite dedicate ourselves to a regular 8-week pottery class (although Crackpot Pottery offers several of those for the people who can commit).

 

At $30 for the class (plus materials, which cost me $18), I found this to be an affordable way to stretch myself creatively. But the best part of these Saturday classes is that I received one-on-one instruction every time. That’s the benefit of having so many craftspeople buzzing about the center: there’s always someone available to share their talent with newbies like me.

 

crackpot kevin

I was paired with Kevin Audley, an instructor with the patience of Job. Ceramics artists like Kevin make working with clay look deceptively easy, so I naively approached my projects with a casual confidence that quickly turned to surprise, then frustration. How come my hands don’t effortlessly transform the clay into a piece of art?

 

I took a deep breath, then gave myself a pep talk. I know I’m not here to create a museum-quality piece. I’m here simply to create, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone to see what can happen.

 

I felt much better after I stopped judging my progress and allowed myself to enjoy the process.

 

I decided to make a bowl and some trays, although I was tempted to make this adorable piggy bank.

 

crackpot pig

I’ll bring my daughter in to do that next time (after all, I still have a lot of clay left to use!).

 

Once I finished forming my pieces, the clay needed time to dry out, so I’d have to return on another Saturday to complete the next step: glazing.

 

crackpot samples

I love the alchemy of this part of the process: choosing a finished color from the tile samples, dipping the clay pieces into the buckets of glaze (that often looked completely different from the samples), then wondering how the intense heat of the kiln would transform the finish into the color that I envisioned.

 

crackpot kiln

 

crackpot inside kiln

There are several kilns located in back of the studio and they are fired weekly. Here’s how my oxblood-glazed stamped tray looked after it was fired.

 

crackpot tray

When I was at Crackpot Pottery, I marveled at the stunning work of the artists all around me, both in the studio and in the gift shop. While, yes, I’m proud of my little stamped tray, other artists at Crackpot Pottery have created breathtaking works like these:

 

crackpot octopus

 

crackpot cracked pot

I know I shouldn’t compare my work with theirs, but come on.

 

In particular, the work of Brent Skinner caught my eye. I couldn’t resist coming home with this, which is now my favorite mug.

 

crackpot skinner mugNotice the oxblood coaster. See, I did find a practical purpose for my artwork!

 

If you are looking to try something new, check out Crackpot Pottery’s Saturday drop-in class. Whether or not you’re crafty, Crackpot Pottery’s ever-patient staff will make you feel like a ceramics star.

 

 

Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio is located at 3820 E. 20th Street. Click here to visit its Facebook page.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Shopping in Joplin

Shop ‘til you drop at boutiques, antiques and specialty shops alongside big box stores

by Christine Smith

 

“What in the world is THAT?”

 

My sister’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she stared out of the car window in disbelief.

 

Her reaction brought a satisfied smile to my face. We’d barely reached the city limits of Joplin and already my worldly sibling from the Windy City was impressed.

 

I’d picked Karen up this morning from the Tulsa Airport. After hopping on I-44, we chatted continuously, passing mile after mile of expansive grassy pastures when—BAM!—there it was.

 

A stately French chateau surrounded by sprawling, well-manicured gardens.

sandstone exteriorSandstone Gardens

 

She couldn’t have been more surprised had she seen a giant jack-in-the-box spring forth from the pastoral southwest Missouri terrain.

 

“That’s Sandstone Gardens,” I told her. “And you can shop there.”

 

I couldn’t wait to show her that shopping in Joplin was more than just stocking up on basic goods at the big-box stores that are visible from I-44.

 

Shopping at Joplin’s local stores offers an authentic and surprisingly sophisticated experience for anyone, even those who have access to the best stores in the world, like my sister.

 

I couldn’t wait to prove it to her.

 

Sandstone Gardens

Our shopping adventure began here. On the outdoor patio, we wandered past tiered lion’s head fountains, classical statues, and decorative cast-stone garden benches, and imagined that we were the ladies of Downton Abbey getting ready to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea in the garden.

 

unique sandstone_thumb_thumb

Sandstone Gardens

Venturing inside the 50,000-square-foot showroom, the sweet scent of honeysuckle potpourri greeted us, beckoning us down a long, narrow hallway lined with candles and richly-scented lotions, and leading us to the grand, two-story atrium where dramatic silk floral arrangements and stately home décor pieces vied for our attention.

 

After shopping for a while, I knew I needed to get some sustenance in her to fuel up for the next store, so I led her to the Bistro.

 

This cozy restaurant is conveniently located in a corner of Sandstone Gardens. My sister ordered a great-looking salad and I ordered the Reuben sandwich (the best in town!) We each ordered cake for dessert: moist German chocolate for her, and tart lemon-berry for me.

 

Boutiques
Bellies full, we were ready to do some clothes shopping. In addition to being a savvy shopper, Karen also studied fashion design, so she has a keen eye when it comes to clothing and accessories.

I knew exactly where to take her: the chic boutiques on Joplin’s historic Main Street.

I went straight for her Achilles heel (sorry for the pun) by taking her to Sophie, the “candy store for shoe addicts.” I gave her some space as she paid reverence to the offering of footwear presented before her: rhinestone-studded cowboy boots, flirty ankle boots, daring stilettos, comfortable wedges, playful flats – you name it.

 

While she tried on pair after pair, I browsed through the rest of the store and was suddenly faced with a dilemma: Did I dare show my sister Sophie’s wide selection of fashion jewelry and scarves, as well the boutique clothing section? If so, we might never leave. If not, she’d miss out on some unique finds.

 

I chose to be a good sister (or enabler—however you look at it) and led her to roam freely.

 

Once I was able to corral her, we crossed Main Street and stopped at Upstairs Boutique. Because it’s a designated Brighton Heart Store, Upstairs Boutique carries an expanded selection of the brand’s items, from jewelry to luggage, so it was the ideal place for Karen to look for a new charm to add to her Brighton bracelet.

 

Our next stop was Blue Moon Boutique, “a modern boutique with a vintage soul.”

 

Cleverly-placed vintage door frames and signs on the exposed brick walls create a whimsical backdrop for the merchandise here. On the floor, trendy necklaces and bracelets hang like ornaments from home décor pieces that are displayed on vintage dressers and tables—which you can buy, too!

 
“How fun is this place?” Karen asked as we worked our way to the boutique clothing section. By that point, even my hands were filled with wonderful treasures, like a smooth leather wrap bracelet and an antiqued metal sign sporting a sassy saying that I know my friend will love.

 

Next door at the equally playful Six Eleven Boutique,  Karen immediately noticed the brightly-colored umbrellas dangling from the antique copper ceiling and said, “You’ve got some pretty funky stores here in Joplin.”

 

In her world, that’s a colossal compliment. As a seeker of cutting-edge clothing and accessories, my sister had just put her stamp of approval on Joplin as a shopping destination.

 

That was huge.

 

As I tried on a flirty, ruffled tunic dress from Lazy Noiz I could hear her talking excitedly with the salesperson, but the only word I could make out was “Oprah.” When I came out of the dressing room, I walked over to the display where she was slathering some lotion on her hands.

 

boutiques blue moon mix_thumb

Blue Moon Market

“These are on Oprah’s list,” Karen said, excitedly pointing to the bottles of Farmhouse Fresh products in front of us. “This is the only place in Joplin that carries them.”

 

It was fun watching how quickly my sister became an ambassador of the Joplin boutique scene.

Next stop, a treat for the palate.


Local Flavor

We drove just a few blocks to Candy House Gourmet. Inside, the air was infused with the scent of sweet cocoa, causing us to practically drool as we painstakingly looked through the selection of handmade chocolates. Karen finally chose a chocolate toffee while I savored a decadent sea salt caramel.

 

I told Karen that we’d have to come back to Candy House Gourmet to take a tour of the factory when we had more time. Then, we’d be able to watch the candy-making process in action (and try some samples!).

 

Driving back to my house, Karen asked if there were places in Joplin that sold healthy food (we strive for a balanced diet, and the more healthy food we can eat, the more chocolate we can savor). I assured her that there several.

 

If she was craving a bite of what’s in season, we’d check out the local fruits, vegetables, honey, and other edibles at the Joplin Empire Market or the Webb City Farmers Market.


Vintage Finds

On our next shopping outing, we’ll explore Joplin’s vintage shops and flea markets for more uncommon finds. I know Karen will swoon over the chic, repurposed items sold at Simply Vintage (like an orange-painted distressed vintage phonograph cabinet), and she’ll certainly get a kick out of the primitives at Country Pickins Antique Mall (like a lampshade crafted from an old stovetop toaster).

 

Candy-House-Case_thumb

Candy House Gourmet

For a hefty dose of thriftiness and quirkiness, we can scour through rows of booths at traditional flea markets like Fancy Flamingo Flea Market and  Rangeline Antique Mall. Items I’ve found in the past at these places include superhero collectibles, milk glass pieces and a peculiar bust of Elvis Presley (which I just can’t get out of my mind).

 

Northpark Mall
Of course, if Karen wants to shop at more familiar stores, we can stop at Northpark Mall, where there are more than 100 retailers, including Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney, and T.J. Maxx, or at other national chains located near the mall, like Pier One Imports, Kohl’s, and Target (with a fresh grocery section and a Starbucks inside).

 

But right now, I’m going to get some rest.

 

Because I know that my early-bird sister will wake me at dawn tomorrow, anxious to discover more local treasures.

 

And that makes me feel so proud of my little city and the people who have chosen to open up their businesses here. Because of their originality, character, and friendliness, our local stores impress even the savviest of shoppers.

 

I can attest to that.

 

Check out Joplin shops for inspiration on your next shopping outing!

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Joplin Dines Out

A tour of the best local eateries

Grilled sea bass from Crabby’s,

the grand Tour of Mythos,

BBQ from Big R’s,

and Karma’s Bio Diesel.

Hackett’s award-winning, succulent wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

 

You won’t see them near the exits of I-44, where nationally-recognized chain restaurants dominate the landscape.

 

But drive a couple minutes in from the interstate, and you’ll find them – the local restaurants that are raising the bar on culinary standards in southwest Missouri with creative menus and quality ingredients.

 

crabbys (1)

Crabby’s

 

Starting off the day right
Don’t be fooled by the simple interior of the Bruncheonette; here, the focus is on the food. This downtown restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch items daily; one of my favorite items is the Benny Harper, a variation of traditional Eggs Benedict that tastes like a BLT thanks to the addition of sliced avocado and smoky bacon.

 

But I rarely order regular menu items here because the daily specials are simply irresistible. Take the “Foitomatic for the People,” a French toast stuffed with local foie gras, and topped with champagne-poached apple compote, spicy pickled raisins, and Hawaiian black lava salt.

 

Casual eateries with gourmet fare
With its whimsical decor and ever-changing local artwork on the walls, Club 609 wowed me with its big-city feel. This downtown restaurant is a solid choice for lunch with an extensive menu, and after work, it transforms into “the” bar in Joplin for Happy Hour and beyond. Classy bar bites include Sushi Sticks and Parmesan Portobello, and Happy Hour lasts until 10pm on some weeknights, making this a great place to relax with friends for an evening.

Standouts here are the Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich with creamy béchamel sauce, the Thai Asian Chicken Salad with spicy peanut sauce, and the inventive Tuna Bruschetta.

 

In south Joplin, Club 1201’s three personalities target different groups of diners. Meet here during the week for an impressive business lunch and try the Apricot Turkey Sandwich, with avocados, pecans, raisins, and apricot mayo. On the weekends, catch up with friends in the small and cozy part of the restaurant (called Uncorked) over Banana Rumaki or Bruschetta Steak Sliders (topped with prosciutto, herbed cheese, and a balsamic reduction). Linger over the Bloody Mary bar on Sundays while enjoying a leisurely brunch.

Not your typical burgers and dogs
With its bohemian decor, wide selection of local and craft beers, and eclectic menu including vegan and vegetarian items, InstantKarma Gourmet Hot Dogs is the hippest dog joint around.

 

crabbys (1)

Instant Karma

 

I love the Bio Diesel, a hot dog (beef or vegetarian) topped with creamy, tangy blue cheese slaw and spicy Sriracha sauce, and my daughter likes the Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as the bun.

 

More burger options await at Eagle Drive-In, Instant Karma’s sister restaurant which is housed in a vintage drive-in in south Joplin. The Eagle’s version of a traditional burger comes topped with a quail egg, which sounds unusual but is truly delicious. Other burgers here are made from lamb, bison, and elk.

Vegetarians, don’t despair! Try the Black Bean or Falafel Burgers. And everyone should order a basket of fries to dip in specialty sauces like the garlic aioli or the wasabi mayo.

 

BBQ and wings that sing
People have been making special trips to Joplin for decades just to eat the tender, hickory-smoked meats at Big R’s BBQ. Top off your barbecue meal with a slice of one of Mrs. R’s out-of-this world pies, like Strawberry-Lemonade or Caramel Macchiato (vanilla coffee cream with ripples of caramel).

 

Hackett’s Hot Wings, made Memphis-style, are recognized as some of the best in the region. Choose from five dry rubs and eight sauces, or mix and match to create your own flavor (you can also buy bottled sauce to take home).

 

Dining with class
In addition to the more casual eateries, Joplin also has some wonderful fine-dining establishments that shouldn’t be missed.

 

With its dark, polished wood and art deco interior, I feel like I’m going to run into Al Capone in the dining room at Wilder’s Steakhouse. The atmosphere here implores you to order a Gin Rickey to sip on while you wait for your steak to be cooked to perfection – I love the Filet du Pont, a tender medallion topped with sweet caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms and sharp Gruyere.

 

crabbys (1)

Eagle Drive-In

 

Joplin also has an incredible seafood restaurant: Crabby’s.  Concrete floors and crimson walls create a chic, urban vibe. Start your meal with the zesty crab cakes, then try the honey-lavender dressing on a crisp house salad, followed by the popular Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which is served on a bed of savory garlic mashed potatoes, and topped with sesame asparagus, wild mushrooms, and a mirin butter sauce.

Upscale meets international at Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina. With an elegant dining area that pays homage to its Greek roots, Mythos offers a taste of both Mediterranean and American fare.

 

Still in the mood for Greek? Order the Tour of Mythos, an appetizer designed for two: sliced gyro meat with tangy tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, spanikopita, olives, and more. Want something closer to home? Try the walnut-crusted chicken or one of the incredibly tender hand-cut steaks. Leave some room for the Deconstructed Tiramisu, which offers all the creamy, coffee flavor of the traditional dessert without the usual soggy texture.

 

More international flavors
There are several excellent Thai restaurants in Joplin. Try the Thai Basil Chicken at Kinnaree, the Magic Mango Fried Rice at Magic Noodle, and the Pumpkin Curry at Thai Time.

 

For sushi, I like to visit the friendly and talented Han the Sushi Man. He is well-known in Joplin for fantastic, fresh sushi and an ever-changing menu to keep things interesting. Try his popular Preston Lacy Roll (named after the Joplin-born actor and daredevil), which is a spicy tuna roll topped with salmon and seafood sauce.

 

crabbys (1)

Kinaree

 

If you’re searching for authentic Mexican food, look no further than Lalo’s Taqueria. Small and unassuming, this restaurant serves a variety of tacos (including tripe and tongue), tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas (the spicy chorizo is my favorite), and fresh guacamole. Come on the weekend to try a bowl of menudo, a traditional Mexican soup.

 

 

One more observation about the Joplin dining scene: Not only are inventive restaurateurs choosing to introduce this city to their unique cuisine, but they are encouraging others to do so, as well.

 

And this supportive restaurant community continues to grow – solidifying Joplin’s position as one of Missouri’s top destinations for gourmands.

 

Click to find Joplin’s best restaurants!

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.