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After graduating from the University of North Texas (UNT) with a master’s in metal smithing in 2020, Caron Dessoye saw a need for a place for local artisans to come together. A place where not only they could build a community, but also have access to the large tools of their trade — like kilns, throwing wheels, sewing machines, and soldering tools — that they may not have space for in their homes.
“The intention was to provide a space where folks who may not be able to access certain tools or equipment or processes, because of the nature of those processes,” Dessoye explains. “UNT has a great program and we just lose a lot of artists, both ceramics and metals … so many people move away because they don’t have access to the equipment anymore (once they graduate).”
For that reason, Dessoye opened Workbench — a co-working art studio with a primary focus on metal smithing, ceramics, and fiber art — in October 2021 right off Denton Square at 813 North Locust Street.
Learn, Make, Sell
According to Dessoye, Workbench offers everything a person needs to learn a new art skill, rent time and tools to make it, and then a space to sell it.
For those who want to expand their skills or learn a new art form entirely, Workbench offers a full calendar of art classes. The classes are taught by local artisans. For example, Dessoye teaches the metalsmithing classes herself.
Classes range from ceramic chainmail to intro to wheel throwing to intermediate metalsmithing. Past fiber art classes have included visible mending and natural dyeing of fibers.
Workbench also has classes coming up on June 25th and 26th offering an introduction to digital fabrication using Rhino 7. Dessoye says participants will learn how to use digital fabrication software and will have the option to print their design out on a 3D printer.
And Dessoye encourages artisans in Denton to apply to teach a workshop. “We do a 70/30 split, so the artist would get 70% of whatever the tuition is for the class,” she explains.
For artists who want to practice what they have learned, Workbench rents out studio space on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. During that time, artisans can access the wide range of tools Workbench offers, including large work tables, drill presses, pottery wheels, sewing machines, and more.
“Folks have a lot of space to move around and make … Just having space to spread out is also a benefit,” Dessoye adds.
Additionally, Workbench offers kiln firing services every Sunday. They alternate between bisque and glaze firing each week.
Because Workbench provides the space and tools, Dessoye says all artists really need to bring are their consumables — the materials they plan to use in their art. “So if you were a metalsmith, you would bring your metal, but we pretty much have everything else,” she explains.
Once artists have finished pieces, they can turn around and sell them through Workbench’s Bench to Market retail store.
According to Dessoye, artisans can rent shelf space at the Bench to Market store for $10 to $40 a month, depending on the size space they want. And Dessoye says the store is not commission-based, so artisans only pay for the rental display space.
“Then we also sell metal smithing supplies and clay, which is great because the closest clay place is Dallas, as well as metals,” Dessoye adds. “So if you need something in a pinch, we probably have it.”
Hella Ceramics Festival
In addition to everything above, Workbench can also convert its work space into a space for artist exhibitions and special events. Dessoye says they had several shows this past year during the school year. “Several students collaborated and rented space, and it was a lot of fun,” she recalls.
Workbench’s next event is the Hella Ceramics Festival, coming up on Saturday, June 18th from 4:00 to 8:00 pm.
“We’re very excited about that,” Dessoye says. “It’s an opportunity to bring together about 10 ceramics artists — they’re going to be selling their wares. We have a band, According to Marcy, that’s going to play. And then the Gnome Cones van is going to be there and they’re going to be providing some coolness. It’s going to be a fun night (to showcase) some local ceramic artists.”
While attending special events like the Hella Ceramics Festival and purchasing items through the Bench to Market retail store are a great way for Dentonites to support local artists, Dessoye also says the community can provide support through the donation of art materials. Workbench has a list of items they currently need on their website.
“A lot of folks come to us and have great craft supplies to donate,” she explains. “And if we can’t take it, we’ll direct them to who might. There’s very few things we turn away because we usually know someone who can use it.”
Whether it’s to take a class, rent studio space, attend an event, or shop in the retail store, Dessoye encourages everyone in Denton to check out Workbench.
“Community art centers provide (an) accessible opportunity for people with art,” Dessoye explains. “There’s a lot people can learn and share and teach themselves in a space like mine. Our goal is to make art accessible to the community and accessible in every way, whether that’s affordability (or) physically being able to access equipment. We are handicapped accessible and we definitely are open to all members of the community. Making art accessible to everybody is the goal.”