by Aaron Layman
“Look at this!” says Glazed Bisque-It owner Pam Berberich, holding up a long plate with a detailed picture of challah bread (if you are from up north you know what challah bread is) on it to a customer named Marci. Marci smiles and turns to the young woman next to her exclaiming, “I did that!” Such is often the scene with the unveiling of finished ceramics at Berberich’s new location at Promenade Park in southwest Roanoke County.
She may be the queen of painted-and-kiln fired ceramics now, but Berberich started her professional life in the halls of academia by teaching organic chemistry at Gettysburg College, also her alma mater. Afterward, she worked as a research chemist for three years before embarking upon a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative for a decade-plus.
She first came to Glazed Bisque-It when she accompanied her two sons to the store’s former Campbell Avenue downtown Roanoke location while a stay-at-home mom. When the previous owner Jane Schultz had to sell due to a relocation in 2007, she jumped at the opportunity to buy the pottery studio. “I had always loved the business and thought there could be more done,” she says. That could include expanding the studio’s reach; taking services to schools and retirement homes. Berberich also instituted a flat studio fee along with the cost of the ceramic, rather than a per-hour fee, because she feels it makes customers feel less rushed and more relaxed.
Berberich, who admits she isn’t an artist, claims that one of the reasons she enjoys the business so much is that she’s offering experiences, not just a finished product; Every-ones got some type of artistic talent. It’s the experience of creating something with whoever you’re with.” For customers who may not want to pick up a brush to glaze, she and her six employees present such options such as pressing paints on with lace patterns or using stamps.
After realizing that she had to leave downtown – due in large part to a leaking roof and customer complaints about parking – she scouted out other locations downtown, along with spaces at Towers, Valley View Mall and in Salem. The new location on Electric Road, which she moved into in September, brings many advantages: in addition to improved access and parking, Glazed Bisque-It has added a new dedicated party room that wouldn’t have fit in the downtown space. Berberich estimates that the business is up over 20% from last year in the months she’s been at Promenade Park
From Spider-Man banks to plates and spoon rests, the range of blank ceramic pieces spreads out far along the right wall of the store. A display at the back holds Christmas ornaments of snowmen and other holiday favorites. Patrons choose a blank and paint it; the piece is fired in a kiln and they come back to pick it up in a few days.
In addition to the pottery firing, Berberich added glass fusion to her repertoire. In glass fusion, pieces of glass are layered to make a design and then fired in one of her four kilns, melting the pieces together. One of her favorite new techniques with the kilns is “slumping,” where the fused glass is shaped in molds into forms such as bowls.
Berberich says she’d like to emphasize glass in the New Year, due to its capabilities for the customer, saying “there are bowls on Etsy [a e-commerce site for crafts] for $300 that you could do here for $42.” She’s also excited about the possibilities of making glass jewelry, which she wasn’t allowed to do under her lease on Campbell, at the new space. Customers can also bring in wine, liquor and beer bottles to “slump” and make into new objects.
The crowds are diverse. Girl Scouts recently came in to make glass fusion nightlights, while on another night fifty sorority sisters from Roanoke College painted their mascot, a ladybug, on various objects. Groups from Hopetree Family Services and Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare have also come through to paint. A recent store-packing “Ladies’ Night” (which she holds every third Friday of the month) makes her glad that she moved to the new location: “We had over 75 people in here and it didn’t feel crowded. We would have been stumbling over one another downtown.”
After getting Marci situated at a table with others working on ceramics, Berberich comes back with a smile to show off some of her patterned glass: “[That] is why I do what I do! To see this reaction people have to what they’ve done.”