By Becky Orr Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne.
When Maura Jacobsen was 5 or 6, she used chalk to draw a picture of clowns on black construction paper.
The drawing is the first artwork she remembers creating and the start of her lifelong love of art.
Jacobsen was at her father's office in Denver that day more than 30 years ago. He liked her drawing so much that he displayed it on his office wall for years.
She has the drawing now, and even though they have faded some, the clowns still mean a lot to her, she said.
Jacobsen changed the medium for her artwork through the years. She creates hand-thrown and hand-glazed stoneware pottery. She has been a professional potter for 22 years.
She recently opened Wyo Art Factory at 1506 Thomes Ave. in downtown Cheyenne inside the old Asher-Wyoming building. Here, she shares her love of art and also sells her work.
"It encompasses an artisan's market, my studio, classes and open studio time," she said.
The space for classes is an important feature. "I felt there was a need to be able to offer classes to kids and adults," she said.
Growing up in Denver, her parents nurtured her love of art by taking her to a special place Sunday afternoons.
She went to Miss Busnito's home. Jacobsen and other children would come to the woman's Denver home and work on their art in her basement.
"The basement was just jam-packed with art supplies," she said. "You could do whatever type of artwork you wanted. She had this basement full of treasures." She went to the woman's home until she was in high school.
Jacobsen graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wyoming.
She didn't find out about working in pottery until she was in college.
"I went to UW as a painter, focusing in acrylics. Painting was my thing. I wanted to be a professional painter until I realized that you probably weren't going to make that great a living being a professional painter," she said.
So, she took a clay class at UW, and its teacher showed her how to throw clay on the wheel.
"I loved throwing on the wheel. It is just a great feeling of creating something out of a lump of clay," she said. "I loved the whole science of mixing glazes and the surprise of how something would come out."
From then on, she focused on pottery and makes functional works of art -- like bowls and plates -- that people can use. She often paints her pottery.
Her business in Cheyenne has one kiln where she fires the pottery. The kiln is coated in stainless steel, and temperatures inside can reach to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
She plans to offer classes in November to teach people how to make pottery ornaments for Christmas.
She also will have a class called "Teacups and Tiaras" for moms and tots. They will paint tea sets that will be fired and glazed.
Not all of her creations are in pottery, however. One product is called Wonderpull Wyoming and is displayed at the business.
She restored an old cigarette machine from which artwork dispenses instead of cigarettes. People put in their money and pull the levers. But instead of packs of cigarettes, out come the works of art.
Crystal Campbell, Jacobsen's assistant, said she is creative and an excellent potter.
"She is really easy-going, too," Campbell said.
"Stuff happens with clay," she said. Potters often have to start over when the first or second efforts don't work. "But she doesn't get upset," Campbell said.
Jacobsen has developed a type of pottery that has become popular throughout Wyoming. She uses vintage Wyoming license plates that are imprinted on pottery platters and plates.
The idea has caught on so well that she now creates license pottery with plates from all 50 states.
The license plate pottery started three years ago when she was trying to find a new Wyoming product.
She was in her garage one afternoon and saw license plates hanging on a wall. "All of a sudden, I started looking at them and thought 'I could use this,'" she said.
Her pottery license platters and other creations are on sale at four national parks, including souvenir stores at Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado.
Her work also is available at shops at the Smithsonian American Art and Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and in the Wyoming Home store in downtown Cheyenne and at Little America Hotel and Resort on West Lincolnway.
Jacobsen's family supports her work with art. Her husband, Zane, makes display tables for the business. They have two daughters, twins Emma and Ruby; and a son, Gannett, who also helps with the store.
She hopes her business can promote young entrepreneurs.
"I'd love to bring that refrigerator artist to the Wyo Art Factory. I would love to get art and youth together. It has always been a big deal to me," she said.