Meet Jess Thayer!
Jess is the owner of and creative force behind Contours & Clay. Her business intentionally combines her two great passions for landscape design and pottery to create a unique offering of ceramic artworks, environmental art, landscape design services and environmental education. That may sound like a lot, but it makes perfect sense when you meet the person who embodies this unique business offering.
Jess’ career path has taken a few turns over the years. She began her studies at the University of Cincinnati in civil engineering, when a friend introduced her to the world of urban planning, which turned out to be a better fit. After graduating from U.C. with her degree in urban planning, she continued her studies in South Carolina earning her master’s degree in landscape architecture at Clemson University (go Tigers!). It was here she discovered yet another passion for art. She explains, “I would escape to the art department to immerse myself in other forms of creative expression, particularly through the mediums of clay and metal.” That marriage of landscape architecture and pottery would later become Contours & Clay.
Jess’ studies also included the joy of sharing her passion with children. “At one point we got to work with 5th & 6th graders on a project centered in a creek on campus. We taught the kids how a creek works, including testing the quality of water. We created an art project right in the creek observed how it changed after a good rain,” she says.
Clearly the creative passion Jess has for her work is amplified when she has the opportunity to share it with others and she continues that here in Cincinnati in the form of teaching opportunities through art shows, demonstrations, classes and teaching engagements.
Looking back at the winding road she experienced as a student, Jess admits that her studies have taken her on quite a journey. “I haven’t exactly followed a straight line in my life,” she says. Fortunately for her, and perhaps all of us, the road to fulfillment is rarely a straight line. The best road trips are the ones filled with adventure and a proper dose of winding roads and unscheduled stops.
Jess is an influencer in the creative culture of our community for people of all ages not only through Contours & Clay, but also as chairperson for the Westwood Art Show. It was there I saw her creating something beautiful out of a nondescript lump of clay. As I watched, I noticed that she had a crowd of other mesmerized fans who not only found an appreciation for her hands but also her ability to relay her creativity through her easy storytelling.
Jess continues to spread the love of her craft throughout Cincinnati. She has upcoming engagements at:
- Dater Montessori – working with kids in an enrichment class where they will look for textures in the landscape to express the seasons through a totem pole that will be permanently installed it on the campus
- Art on Vine at Rhinegeist, April 19
- Artist Talk at the Cincinnati Learning Collaborative on May 16
- And don’t forget the Westwood Art Show – September 12 at the Westwood Town Hall
As an advocate for art, nature and growing awareness for our environment, Jess continues to evolve her business and her commitment to our community. She moves forward positively and with conviction saying, “I think I march into things with confidence because I really do believe it will be okay.”
Just for Fun
Q: You are from Tennessee, what brought you to Cincinnati?
A: I came here originally to go to school at University of Cincinnati. It is where my father went to school. Westwood has become our home with my husband Josh and two sons, Aiden & Nate.
Q: What was life like in growing up in Tennessee?
A: Tennessee life is a slower pace with a lot of natural spaces to explore. My dad works for Y-12 National Security Complex where they design nuclear weapons. Not a “bring your kid to work” type of facility. We always imagined Dad’s job as a Men in Black, Stranger Things or X-Files kind of place. Growing up we had a picture of my dad and his team standing behind a replica of a bomb. Very unique – well maybe not in Oak Ridge, TN.
Q: Do you have a dream goal for your business?
A: I would love to have a shop to show and teach and to also create a space. A type of Gallery within a greenhouse where art and plants are displayed in different ways. Could be bistro-esque with seating. I think of Krohn Conservatory, but more of an art gallery than only plants.
Q; Who helps you in your business?
A: Recently I reached out to SCORE Cincinnati which is a group of volunteer business executives and specialists who give their time to help small businesses succeed. I had a great meeting with them, and they helped me realize that I don’t have to do it all at once – one step a time.
Q: How would those close to you describe you?
A: I would hope my best friends would describe me as dependable, genuine, and sometimes brutally honest. I can also be sarcastic and sometimes even a little crass. Deep down I think my friends recognize me as an encourager and definitely an advocate of lady power.
Q: Tell me some of your favorite things about our city.
A: Cincinnati has great nature destinations like the Krohn Conservatory ,and parks like Miami Whitewater. I’d like to see Mt Airy Park be more like that. I have passion for our streams and stream health and restoration.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Cincinnati?
A: I went to the University of Cincinnati and all my roommates are from different places, so when we get together, we eat at Dewey’s and go to Graeter’s. Cincy has grown so much it is fun to explore new restaurants, but I love a good Mexican taco. Condado Tacos next to Reds stadium is my favorite. Sometimes, I just need a good street taco!
Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in your community?
A: A couple people come to mind.
Tara Heilman owns ROBOT Inside, a sewing shop where she says “if you can dream it – I can make it.” She is an amazing advocate and works with Girl Scouts and AA. A very strong lady, who is also an advocate for the arts.
Ben Clark – president of Queen City Clay & teacher at NKU. Ben is growing the business of clay in our community. He is a fascinating person who is a competitive jump roper and a great inspiration and advocate for the creative.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be?
A: Someplace warm and sunny. Of course I love the Smoky Mountains. Last year we went to Sedona and I loved it. The desert was blooming with beautiful purple trees and variations in color and plant life at different elevations.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: I am Sci-Fi person so . . . Star Wars. Rogue One is a favorite, even though everyone dies in it.
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: Believe in yourself – don’t tear down but build up yourself and others. Focus on being positive for yourself which allows you to be positive for other people.
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
A: Visit more national parks all over the U.S. and other countries. Do more adventure things like kayaking and canoeing.
Q: What is your favorite music?
A: My current playlist includes Radiohead / Modest Mouse / FOALS / Courtney Barnett / The Chainsmokers / Indie Alternative music.
Q: What person, alive or passed, would you like to have lunch with?
A: It would definitely be a powerful woman like Frieda or Maya Angelo who had completely different experiences than me and it would be cool to hear their journeys.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
A: I hope I have helped to grow Westwood and also grow my business, maybe even in brick and mortar shop. I have some ideas about that. Whatever it becomes, it is important that it is done authentically.
Q: What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A: I read Tarot cards on my own sometimes.
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: Great Smoky Mountains.
Q: What do you do for you?
A: That is the hardest thing to do, right? I drink coffee or take a walk. My studio is therapeutic to me. I work on finding ways to listen to myself – that is where my meditation is.