In a basement not far from Belair Road, a local couple is creating monsters. It's not a scary story, though — Cat and Rich Holt don't stitch together zombies or reanimate bodies with electricity like Dr. Frankenstein. Instead, this couple's process starts with a potter's wheel.
Cat, who started working with clay in 1985, and Rich, a ceramics professor at Towson University, make cookie jars with faces, soapdishes that look like fish, and little monsters who will hold your toothbrush.
The company is called Claymonster and, according to Cat, business is booming. She estimates that 1,500 pounds of clay they ordered last week will be gone by the end of the year
It all started about seven years ago, by Cat's estimate. Richard, now the head of ceramics at Towson, gave his students an assignment to build boxes that integrated the surface design into the structure of the box. It was an idea the couple ran with.
"We took a couple of those pieces [inspired by the assignment] to shows, and they sold out," Cat said.
That's when they knew they were onto something, and it wasn't long before Rich had a sold out solo exhibition at Saints & Sinners Ink in Fells Point.
Since then, they've worked the craft show circuit in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, including the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. Next year, they might expand into North Carolina.
"I try to list stuff on Etsy," Cat said. "But I don't really do that either. In the end, if you really want to find something, the best thing in the world is just to try and come to a show."
Cat is the brawn behind the operation in many ways, creating the majority of the figures on a potter's wheel then decorating them with features.
"Rich is a professor full-time and does this very part-time, but he's still my idea guy," Cat said.
Despite the fact that they make monsters, Cat said neither is a fan of horror movies.
"I can't watch scary movies," she said. "We do occasionally get people who want the darker stuff from us. Sometimes I'll make one that's a bit gnarly, but most of them tend to be maniacally cute."
"Sometimes we get requests for totally unique things. I had a guy who wanted a cow — I got to spend a couple of days online looking at images of cows, to try and find something, one feature to tie into a cookie jar to make him bovine," Cat said.
Cat said she looks for inspiration in a number of places, but her biggest influences are animals and nature, as well as human figures.
"When people look at one of our pieces they're seeing something they recognize," she said.
Like any good mad scientists, the couple has an assistant. Twenty-eight-year-old Amanda Willis works with them, glazing the pieces to give them color before they go into the kiln to be finished.
"It’s Amanda and I and Rich. I work all night sometimes. If I could get an army of people in here, we would be busy," Cat said.
The creative schedule was easier to maintain with when they started, but the couple now has two children, 6 and 3 years old.
"My husband is amazing in spite of being a full-time professor, he generally does morning things so I can work late," she said. "There’s times when he’ll be working with me until 3 in the morning. We absolutely enable each other, in good and bad ways, to work way too much and still try to spend time with kids and keep the house clean."
And what do they get out of it? A successful business, of course. But Cat said it's about more than that.
"[These] people bought a mug with an eyeball on it, they say they look at it first thing in the morning — it’s the craziest good karma thing to know that we make things that make people happy — that’s a good feeling. I like good karma," she said. "People walk into the booth and they just start cracking up, they laugh and laugh, and I get to take that home."