SPRING HILL — Mary Cosgrove's customers and students at Artistic Ceramics are as dedicated to the craft as the owner, who has been painting baked clay for 55 years.
"They beg me not to quit," said Cosgrove, 73, who has pared her shop hours in recent months due to a back injury.
Tucked away on Kass Circle, Cosgrove concedes that she doesn't get much walk-in traffic. She's occupied the location since 1996, selling greenware, bisque and appropriate paints and stains; in addition, she teaches ceramics painting, paints pieces on consignment and does kiln firing for those who paint elsewhere.
Referring to the county government's fledgling effort to pump new vigor into the Kass Circle neighborhood, Cosgrove agreed with the need.
"It's costing me money to be here," she said.
She said she has dipped into her savings to maintain the shop.
Yet, Cosgrove's storefront stands out in the strip of seven units where she's located. Original paintings depicting a backyard landscape adorn the front window and attest to the artistry offered within.
Through the door, a newcomer blurts out a spontaneous, "Wow!"
Floor to ceiling and wall to wall, blank canvasses cry out for creative coloring.
"No idea," Cosgrove answers when asked how many pieces await. "I have over 6,000 molds. I'm a mold-aholic, a brush-aholic."
A pot full of brushes sits within Cosgrove's ready reach.
She paused on a recent morning in applying fine-line detail to a ceramic camel, a piece she's painting on order for a customer's nativity set.
Naked items on various holiday themes are available, along with pieces for dining, garden accessorizing and tabletop decorating.
Blanks range in price from $3 to $26, depending on size, complexity and the manufacturer.
Molds to form the products account for Cosgrove's larger outlay, from roughly $25 for a simple design to $225 for a large, detailed work.
Cosgrove's daughter, Trishia Cosgrove, 51, handles the molds, pouring and setting the liquid clay, mined in the United States.
The elder Cosgrove teaches classes on demand at work stations to accommodate about a half-dozen students at a time. She often will take on a local resident with a houseguest, a duo looking for something to do. And she's offered studio time and instruction to kids' groups, such as the Girl Scouts, on a Saturday.
A $10 instructional session can last whatever amount of time a student wants. A student purchases a blank piece and is assessed 25 cents per pot of paint used.
As for teaching, Cosgrove said, "Whatever level you're at, that's what I teach."
She said she began teaching in 1958 at her kitchen table while living near Cambridge, Mass. She and her late husband, Bill, moved to Florida in 1992.
As for the future, Cosgrove is optimistic. She hopes stores surrounding Kass Circle, her shop included, benefit from the improvements being discussed by the county.
"I hope it works out," she said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.