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ARTIST PROFILE: Keeping the arts scene alive at the Jay Craft Center

October 13, 2017
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

JAY-Walking into the Jay Craft Center can be like walking into a fine arts gallery with well-laid-out pieces of strikingly attractive artworks under bright spot lights, the main difference being that you can buy them and take them home.

That's not bad for a one-time grange hall near the intersection of routes 86 and 9N that was built in 1909 and had no central heat until the 1980s.

Cheri Cross and Lee Kazanas met each other in pottery class while attending SUNY Plattsburgh in the 1970s when it was still "Plattsburgh State." And here they are some 40 years later living and working out of this former grange hall they've owned since 1980 that now does have an oil boiler, insulation, new windows, railings, sanded floors and all the other amenities one would expect from a nice home.

Article Photos

Cheri Cross at the Jay Craft Center
(Photo provided — Steve Lester)

Although you can find framed photography, wooden artifacts, jewelry, candles and various other types of art on display, pottery is their bread and butter. According to Kazanas, their pottery work was cited for outstanding achievement in clay at the National Craft Fair in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 1995 and 1997.

"Pottery sales are well over half the total sales in the shop," he said.

While molding an object on a spinning platter in the building's back section, or as a potter would say, "hand throwing some clay on a potter's wheel," he said, "We were fortunate to get this building many years ago. It's like the ultimate pottery tool, if you know what I mean."

Cross said, "This building was never meant to be used as a full-time business. We were the first to use it full time. It took a lot of taming."

In reference to the building's early deficiencies, she said, "We were young, and it got old."

Out in the showroom a customer inquired of Cross about using a coffee mug, among her biggest sellers, in a microwave oven.

"It's OK to warm coffee in it, but I wouldn't make a cup of tea in it. It doesn't make a very good cup of tea, in my opinion," she said.

Later in the back section where the creative process takes place, Cross demonstrated dipping various unfinished mugs in plastic buckets filled with liquid coloring agents that look nothing like the color that will grace the finished products once they come out of the kiln. The names taped to the buckets included "desert yellow," "Anne's hunter green," and "cone 6 dun."

"This is where the magic is done," she said.

The shop stays open seven days a week during the summer and tapers off until after Christmas when they're open by appointment only.

"I need time to recharge then," Cross said. "That's when I work on new designs. We're constantly innovating our designs, not for commercial reasons but because we get bored doing the same things all the time."

Some of her latest designs involve multi-colored birds on her pottery such as a white-breasted nuthatch.

"I like floral designs, but birds are a new challenge," Cross said. "We're also working with a new black clay we're pretty excited about because it will give us all kinds of new colors."

During the off season, Cross also works on the AuSable River Valley Studio Tour that takes place in July in which more than 30 artists, craftmakers and designers open up their studios to the general public for self-guided tours.

"I'm a full-time potter and a part-time chamber of commerce unofficially," she said. "Small businesses are stronger working together."

The small number of artists on the tour who do not have a space of their own for tourists to visit display their works at local libraries instead.

"It's an activity that brings people in contact with the libraries as well as the artists," Cross said.

After 40 years, she and Kazanas say they have no desire to retire.

"This is pretty much what we do," Cross said. "As long as our health holds out we'll just keep doing it."

For more information about the Jay Craft Center, visit Cheri Cross and Lee Kazanas online at



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