Mt. Pleasant pottery studio provides a haven for creativity and relaxation

Michelle Klingensmith says her life has been a series of happy accidents.
For example, she met her husband, Asad, on a blind date that almost didn’t happen. And the tank of turtles that inspires her downtown Mt. Pleasant business today? They unexpectedly became a part of the family after a pet-sitting job for a neighbor that has lasted the past 15 years.

Photo credit Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.
In fact, Klingensmith says The Painted Turtle, her downtown Mt. Pleasant pottery studio, was itself an accident, even though the situation that led to its creation was anything but happy. Back then, Klingensmith was leaving her job to care for her daughter due to some health concerns she was facing at the time.
“It was a call to action,” Klingensmith says. “My husband said, ‘We don't need two incomes, we can tighten the belt, and we can take care of her.’”
But later, as her daughter’s health improved, Klingensmith found herself wanting to contribute to the community in a meaningful way.

Photo credit Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.
“My daughter said to me, ‘Why don't you open a pottery studio?” Klingensmith explains, adding that art classes had been both therapeutic and a source of joy during her daughter’s illness.
“So, I pursued it,” she says. “It was about five months through the whole process to the day I opened.”
That was in 2012. Today, The Painted Turtle is a staple in the downtown community.

Isabelle Steffke, The Painted Turtle’s studio manager, glazes pottery. Photo credit Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.
 “We get people who are in their 90s coming in with their grandkids,” says Isabelle Steffke, The Painted Turtle’s studio manager. “We get a lot of college students; we get a lot of younger people. We get in so many families, too—so, birthday parties, bridal showers—that sort of family thing. We really strive to be a family oriented place.”
“It's a very calm and very free atmosphere,” Steffke adds. “I feel like it's very comfortable. I get told that a lot.”
“You've got the turtles and the turtle tank,” Klingensmith adds, referencing the studio’s unofficial mascots. “I always greet people as soon as the door opens: ‘Welcome to The Painted Turtle!’ And if they haven't been there before, I make sure to introduce them to the turtles. We talk a little bit about the turtles, especially if there's kiddos, but everybody gets introduced to the turtles.”

But the tank of turtles—even if they are the studio’s namesake—aren’t the main attraction. It’s the wall-to-floor shelves of what Steffke calls “bisque.”

“Leonardo the Turtle” is one of the studio’s unofficial mascots. Photo credit Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.
“That’s white pottery that has not been glazed or fired yet,” she explains. “So, you just take those off the shelf—off the wall, or wherever you see it—and then we supply the glazes.”
Steffke and Klingensmith are on-hand to supply visitors with simple painting techniques and ideas, but guests are also free to sit and paint the pottery of their choice on their own.
“When they're done, they leave it with us and then we fire it in our kiln and then either call or text them,” Steffke says, adding the process can take about ten days.

“We get a lot of people in who are pretty afraid of art,” Steffke says. “They think they can't do it. And that's such a lie. Because everybody here can make something amazing. You don't have to be some amazing Picasso to make something really, really cool.”

“I love art just because of how expressive it is,” she adds. “Sometimes I really struggle with what to say exactly. But I feel with art, you don't have to say anything; it just kind of speaks for itself. And it can be interpreted in so many different ways. And that's the really cool thing about it.”

“This isn't a venture that is going to make the same kind of money that I can make as a professional,” Klingensmith says, but adds that it has been worth it for her and for her family. “What we saw is that it was drawing in people, and it was a mental health approach … creativity is therapeutic.”

Photo credit Dan Gaken / Epicenter Mt. Pleasant.
Still, Klingensmith says she’s ready for new adventures and is making plans to turn over The Painted Turtle to Steffke, a process that will happen over the next few years.
“I would like to transition Isabelle over in a way so she can be successful and make the studio more than I was able to,” Klingensmith explains.
“My goal is to be as great as Michelle is,” Steffke says. “She has amazing people skills and the way she works with kids? It's fantastic!”
“So many people are like, ‘I was having a really bad day, and then I came in,’” she concludes. “And they are like, ‘My day has just gotten so much better by just doing art and just relaxing and not thinking about anything. Just kind of letting the paintbrush just take control of my brain for a little bit.”

Learn more about The Painted Turtle’s offerings and upcoming events at 209 W. Broadway in downtown Mt. Pleasant at
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Read more articles by Sarah R. Adams-Slominski.

Sarah R. Adams-Slominski is an award-winning multimedia producer and writer with over 20 years of experience. She has also designed and taught multimedia and communication courses for university students, as well as media relations and marketing seminars for clients she coaches across the United States. In 2020, she began work on a doctorate and is now concentrating on dissertation research in educational technology and new literacies while working as a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct college instructor. When she has some downtime, Sarah loves reading, cooking, and swimming—as well as hanging out with friends, family, and her fiancé at home with two giant cats.