ALTO PASS — The former Alto Pass Grade School is now home to Alto Clay Works, a ceramic art studio.

Steve Grimmer operates and lives in the studio with his family after purchasing the property in October and moving to the area from Manitoba, Canada.

The property originally served as the elementary school for Alto Pass until closing in 1971. Grimmer said the building was a Salvation Army drop off site until 1985, when it was purchased by Jan and Gary Austin. 

The Austins restored the building and started an antique store, Austin's Antiques. The couple ran the business until their recent retirement and sold the building to Grimmer.  

Grimmer, who is a Southern Illinois native and a former SIU lecturer, was working for the University of Manitoba as a professor when he learned of the chance to own his own art studio. 

"I loved the teaching and the time in the studio and running a program, but the bureaucracy of the university was distracting to me," he said. "When I was in school, what I really wanted was to have pottery, a kiln, and a place where people could buy pots. Where I could make functional pots and sell them to the people who use them." 

A kiln is a furnace or oven for firing pottery. 

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Grimmer said owning his own studio is everything he could have imagined. 

"It is amazing," he said. "The fact that I know the people who are buying the work and they know the person who made the work is really important for functional pottery." 

Since taking control of the property in October, he had hosted two sales for his pottery and he said each one went extremely well.

"They cleaned me out,"Grimmer said. "They take about half of what I make." 

Looking to the future, he said there will be two large wood-burning kilns with two chambers for firing pottery. The first chamber will produce surfaces that will feel like it came from nature, such as rocks, forest or trees. The second chamber will produce a very clean, smooth surface. 

Grimmer said he specializes in making bowls, coffee cups, vases and teapots.

Alto Clay Work is typically open Friday through Sunday from 1-6 p.m., and holidays that fall on Mondays from 1-6 p.m. Grimmer said he will take appointments at other times. 

The studio can be reached by calling 618-697-4258.

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