Only two weeks into a college elective course in ceramics, Emily Reinhardt knew her path was designed for pottery — sharing that she quickly fell in love with the extended amount of time and patience it requires.
“From start to finish, I’m enamored with the process of ceramics — drying, firing, cooling — and bringing something to life. I think the process is just as magical as the outcome,” said Reinhardt, who founded her ceramics brand and online shop, The Object Enthusiast, in 2011 after graduating from Kansas State University.
Her storefront, Duet, opened in November in the East Crossroads, leaning heavily on the ceramicist’s work ethic and artistic eye. The style of The Object Enthusiast can be encapsulated by “Wabi Sabi,” a Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in natural imperfections, Reinhardt said.
“I really love that delicate balance between a perfect thing and an imperfect thing,” Reinhardt explained. “With a lot of my work, there are drips; there are bumps; you can sometimes see the finger marks from the way I’ve made it.
“That perfectly imperfect detail shows the character involved and lets someone know that a person made it, not a machine,” she continued. “Each step along the way — mixing the clay, forming the clay, firing the clay, glazing it — it’s all done by my hands.”
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But before ever pursuing ceramics, Reinhardt dreamed of opening a storefront, she said. Crossing paths with Sasha Santillan helped mold that vision into reality.
“[Santillan] used to work at a fulfillment center where I shipped my work from,” Reinhardt recalled. “As we got to know each other through working together, we discovered that we’d both always dreamed of owning a shop — it was an instant, ‘Let’s do this together.’”
The duo launched Duet in late 2020. Unlike other brick-and-mortar ventures, Duet is a 3-in-1 space that includes: retail focused on art and everyday objects, a gallery space and an art studio for Reinhardt and her boyfriend, Kevin Umana (who works in painting and sculpting).
“The beauty of having a studio, gallery and shop all in one place is being able to present to people that we make the work here; we show the work here; and we sell the work here,” Reinhardt said.
The fears of opening Duet during the COVID-19 pandemic slowly evaporated as the business increasingly receives boosts from the community, she added.
“In the beginning, it feels like your friends and your parents are the only people who are showing up and supporting you,” Reinhardt noted. “But word of mouth has been a big deal in this city. A lot of people come in, and they share a photo [on social media]. Then more people come in and mention that their friend was here.”
Reinhardt also praised Santillan for her dedication and support in owning and operating Duet.
“She compliments the things that I’m not good at and vice versa,” Reinhardt said. “It’s really wonderful to have someone who’s dreams are as big as mine, and we’re both willing to work hard to get there.”
Click here to read more about fellow creative Colleen Monroe, who features The Object Enthusiast in her next-door business, Floraloom.
Along with a shop and studio, Duet is home to the Ekru Project — a gallery focused on contemporary emerging and underrepresented artists founded by Reinhardt and Umana.
“At first, it was just an online curatorial project where we shared work that inspired us,” Reinhardt explained. “When we moved into [Duet], we realized that this is being enough to bring that curatorial project to life in a real setting.”
The couple partnered with local artists, along with various North American artists, to curate the gallery. Although the gallery came was initially unexpected, they already have plans for future exhibitions — such as a ceramics-only show and kid’s art show.
“It’s all very exciting. The shop inspires the work. The gallery inspires the work. Customers inspire the work. It’s all kind of energizing each other.”
Local artists have proven a pillar of strength for the shop, she shared. The Ekru Project had its opening night in late January, and just when Reinhardt thought no one might show up, the artist community pulled through.
“People came, and it was all from word of mouth from other galleries,” she said. “Having your peers show up for you is a big deal. … Being in a smaller city, like Kansas City, helps foster that art community and grow us closer with other artists and other like-minded creatives.”
Hard work over talent
A notable “why” behind Reinhardt decision to pursue ceramics is explained by her teachers — specifically her first ceramics professor Yoshiro Ikeda, or as she refers to him, “Yoshi.”
“Yoshi preferred the students who had a strong work ethic over raw talent,” Reinhardt noted. “He’d say, ‘I can teach you to be good at ceramics; I can’t teach you to show up, work hard and be dedicated to it.’
“… A lot of weekends, he and I would be in the ceramics studio together, sometimes talking, but oftentimes not,” she recalled. “I was a little intimidated by him, but in that admirable way where I just thought everything he did was amazing.”
Yoshi retired in the early 2010’s and soon after passed away, leaving his kiln and wheel to Reinhardt.
“He told me, ‘You worked really hard, and you deserve this,’” she said. “That’s how I started my business. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if he hadn’t done that and if he hadn’t been my teacher.”
For emerging artists, Reinhardt advises to show up for oneself and their art. When Reinhardt first sat down in front of a pottery wheel over a decade ago, she wasn’t naturally talented, she shared.
“I wasn’t good at ceramics when I started — my taste was far beyond what I could create,” she said, laughing. “But I was there [in class] every day. Part of art is showing up and being in your space and putting in the work. That’s what leads to the breakthrough. A creative lifestyle is a lot of hard work and dedication.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.