East Brainerd pottery studio helps new Habitat homeowners turn house into home with free, personalized art

River City Pottery manager Kimberly York holds up a serving platter featuring the handprints of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga homeowner Raquel's daughter Somiya and son Jah'Kari. River City invites all local Habitat owners and their families to paint pieces of their choice at the paint-your-own-pottery studio, then presents the finished products to the family at their home's dedication ceremony. / Contributed photo by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga

Through the Chattanooga Habitat for Humanity chapter's Giving Arts Program, local art-focused businesses help future homeowners in the Greater Chattanooga area turn their new houses into homes with the addition of art.

"A lot of our families, when they move into their home, it's all about filling their home with the essentials," said Michelle Guanaga, family services assistant for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area, on why she started the program. "When I thought about how you make a house a home, art came to mind."

Since the families are focused on purchasing basics such as beds for their children and unlikely to spend money on artwork, Guanaga reached out to local art-related businesses to request donations to present to families at their homes' dedication ceremonies.

Businesses such as In-Town Gallery and Bluff View Art District donate works of fine art worth hundreds of dollars, she said.

All partner businesses, including Ooltewah Nursery and Painting with a Twist, have been generous with donations, but River City Pottery has really embraced the program, said Guanaga.

The paint-your-own-pottery studio in East Brainerd invites every family to come in the week before their home's dedication ceremony and paint any items they choose free of charge. Hand- and footprints of the children in the family are put on a serving platter that's painted with their names to be presented at the ceremony along with the family's painted pieces and a framed collage of photos taken of the family while painting.

"No one's taken a personal interest in the program like [River City Pottery manager Kimberly York] has," Guanaga said. "When you see her present these families with this art, there's a lot of emotion there."

The studio has invited five families - every Habitat family that's received a home since August - to paint, and York has attended each ceremony to present the artwork. She said the son of one homeowner was really shy and wouldn't speak to her, but when she presented him with a piece he'd painted, his eyes lit up.

"We love to do anything where we get to be a part of the community and make a difference," said York. "What we do [for the families], to me, is very small, but for the families, getting these keepsakes is really special. It's just an honor for us to be able to be a part of it."

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com