Business As Usual

David Rubin

(David Rubin)

Audra Haas was 18 years old
and exploring a new city, San
Diego, when she stumbled upon
her passion. Haas and her sister
walked into an “interactive art studio,”
then one of the first of its
kind. They spent the day there
making art and catching up over
a cup of coffee. The moment was
unexpectedly powerful, a welcome
escape from the rush of everyday
life. Said Haas, “I fell in love with
the idea of art bringing people
together.”
According to Haas, that
memory has stuck with her ever
since. Years later – after living
in California, Florida and Mexico,
returning to Appleton and starting
a family – Haas found herself
wanting a project, something in
which to channel her talent and
energies.
“I wanted to do something I
was passionate about,” said Haas.
The memory of that day
in San Diego still lingered, and
Haas decided to recreate it back
home in Wisconsin. Haas opened
a studio, called The Fire, on
College Avenue between Massage
Connection and the now-defunct
Conkey’s Bookstore, thereby bringing
an interactive art studio to
downtown Appleton.
An interactive art studio is
intended to make artistic activity
approachable and accessible
to everyone, from young school
kids to their tired parents, from
weary college students to random
passersby. The Fire welcomes all
of these customers and more. The
giant wall calendar on the east side
of the store confirms this fact: It
mentions school trips, Girl Scout
troops, birthday parties and bridal
showers.
Interestingly, The Fire doesn’t
offer official classes of the intensive
six-week-workshop sort. No
appointments are necessary. Haas
aims to maintain an open, friendly
studio conducive to spur-of-themoment
visits. The bright logo and
colorful storefront windows seem
designed to welcome pedestrians.
Indeed, curious passersby with no
previous experience form an integral
part of The Fire’s clientele.
The Fire offers four kinds of
artistic projects to its customers.
Visitors can fuse glass, paint pottery,
make mosaics – arranging
colorful tiles on wooden surfaces
like picture frames – or fashion
jewelry from “precious metal clay.”
The studio itself is bright and
inviting, filled with lots of light
and plenty of quirky decorations.
A vintage General Electric refrigerator,
for instance, adorns the
wall next to the larger-than-life
calendar. With some luck, Haas
found that refrigerator abandoned
on the curbside along with an oldfashioned
television. Both items
make the studio feel less like a
storefront and more like a livedin
space and that seems to be the
intended effect.
In addition to these decorative
elements, the walls are lined
with unpainted pottery and other
supplies. The center of the studio,
however, is all uncluttered workspace,
filled with large tables conducive
to collaborative moments
like the one Haas shared with her
sister back in San Diego.
Indeed, the studio’s design
seems part of a distinct atmosphere,
a deliberately casual environment
intended to draw anyone
and everyone into the creative process.
This philosophy doesn’t stop
at the studio doors. The Fire is
also heavily involved in the wider
community.
Harmony Café for instance,
commissioned The Fire to create a
set of new mugs. In the past, Haas
and her staff have created mosaic
“backsplashes” for homes created
by Habitat for Humanity. The studio
is also involved with educational
endeavors. It hosts summer
workshops for school-aged kids
and sometimes collaborates with
YMCA children’s programs.
This community involvement
extends to the Lawrence campus
as well. Haas currently counts
Lawrentians among some of her
regular visitors, but she is always
looking to do more to bridge the
one-block divide between campus
and community. So next time
you’re looking for an escape from
the Lawrence Bubble, consider a
trip to this most welcoming of
art studios. You can stop in for
an hour or two, leave your daily
grind behind and make something
memorable.

(David Rubin)

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