When the lease on Pottery You Paint’s space in Ashburn Farm was coming up for renewal, owners Rose Weitzner-Nemeth and Alan Nemeth were not sure what they wanted to do.
"The lease was for another five years," Nemeth, who opened the pottery-paint store with his wife in 2002, said. "We were asking, do we want to sell?"
Then Nemeth saw a story on the nightly news about the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and how supplies and help were still needed in the effected region almost two years after the storm.
"I started thinking that community centers or school down there could use [our supplies]," he said. "We wanted to see if there was a need and there was."
Nemeth sat down and immediately starting sending e-mails. He contacted the governor of Mississippi, the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans to see if they would have any use for the items in their store.
"Someone from the governor of Mississippi’s office contacted me almost immediately," Nemeth said. "They said they could definitely use everything."
The governor’s office contacted the Mississippi Arts Commission, the commission contacted the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi and, in August, the entire contents of the Ashburn store will be brought down to the Gulf Coast and put to use.
"We were heavily affected by Katrina," Marjie Gowdy, executive director of the museum, said. "This is a wonderful thing for them to do."
WHEN MOST PEOPLE think of sending supplies to the devastated region, they think of sending food or clothes, not art supplies, but Gowdy said Pottery You Paint’s supplies are greatly needed.
"We have a number of potters along the Gulf Coast, individuals with their own studios," she said. "They lost their studios, equipment, bodies of work, everything."
In August, after Pottery You Paint has closed for business, volunteers from Mississippi will come to Ashburn to collect the stores paints, glazes, chairs, tables, shelves and two large kilns. Once the items reach Biloxi, staff members will figure out the best way to distribute the items.
"Right off the bat, while we’ll need some of these things [at the museum], the potters really need them," Gowdy said.
The museum, which is being run out of a temporary facility while a new museum is built, plans to use one of the kilns for its "open Saturdays," where anyone can come in and use the equipment. The other kiln will find a home with one of the coast’s local potters. Gowdy said educational outreach is a big part of what the museum does and many of the donated items will help staff to supply programs. Any remaining items will be given to people and organizations that need them.
"This is just the thing to help get the art community back on its feet," Gowdy said.
FOR NEMETH and his wife, the decision to donate all of the items in their store was an easy one. The couple has long done volunteer work for local organizations like the Humane Society and liked the idea of doing more with what they had than simply selling it.
"We figured it’s a unique way to put this stuff to good use," Nemeth said. "We can use our business to give back."
When the couple opened Pottery You Paint in 2002 there were no other stores like it in the immediate area. Nemeth said they were excited to try something new, neither of them having worked in the arts business before, but now they are ready to start their next journey.
"We appreciate the support that the community provided us with five successful years in Ashburn," Weitzner-Nemeth said. "We are happy that we are now in a position to use [the store] to help the recovery efforts in Mississippi."
"We think it is important. There is so much that still needs to be done," Nemeth said. "We’re just happy that it will be put to use. It will be a lot less stuff they have to buy."
Indeed, Gowdy said the donation was very generous in a time when many people have moved on from the Katrina relief effort.
"People are still coming down to volunteer, but in terms of the donation of supplies, that has dwindled. It’s been two years," she said. "We have a long rebuilding process ahead of us, so this is very much needed and tremendously appreciated."