House of Clay
Designed by Frank Wallace
1100 NW 30th, OKC
The House of Clay website has a very interesting and thorough history of the company and owners, Levern and Norman Meriwether, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m just going to share the whole thing with you:
In business for more than 60 years, The House of Clay is a vital part of the history of Oklahoma City and has been owned by the Meriwether family since 1950. Norman and Levern Meriwether, with knowledge of ceramics from their work with Tamac Pottery, purchased an already thriving business, The House of Clay, located at 2416 N. Western, from a dissolving partnership. 1950 was a busy year for Norman and Levern. Along with the purchase of the House of Clay, they welcomed their first child, Judith Ann, into the world. Two and a half years later, they had their second daughter, Norma. Both daughters have worked in the family business and Judith continues to manage the successful business to this day.
It all began when Levern was looking for a particular ceramic piece for her sister, Sally. She and Norman noticed the ceramic shop and stopped in. After talking with the owner for several minutes and relating their work at Tamac Pottery in Perry, Oklahoma, the owner asked if Norman could help her by pouring green ware. He was busy with his day job but offered that he might be able to do that in the evenings. Eventually, he did begin pouring slip in the molds and letting it set up to create green ware to sell in her shop.
The lady Norman worked for in the ceramic shop sold the business to a pair of women, one of whom lived with her husband in an apartment above the business. As in many partnerships, one partner works diligently while the other loafs and so was the case with these two women and the partnership soon dissolved. Norman was working for them and becoming quite popular with the customers because of his knowledge of ceramics and dashing good looks. He was waiting on customers, pouring green ware, and doing all the firing.
Levern and Norman Meriwether
The married partner’s husband wanted Norman to buy the shop but he couldn’t afford it. After some cajoling, Norman made an offer of $500 and agreed to pay off the remaining price of $1000 within 6 months. Suddenly there was a ceramics shop to run and Levern wondered how they would make money. “You make money from teaching classes,” she was told. The former owner said, “I will teach you this afternoon and by tonight, you will know more than the people in tonight’s class.” And so Levern became a ceramics teacher and she and Norman began a long career in entrepreneurship.
By 1961 the Meriwethers’ vision of what could be was opening up to the possibilities. They purchased three houses at the corner of N.W. 30th and Western. Unfortunately, it was a struggle getting the property zoned for business. After losing several court hearings, Norman threw in the towel and gave up ever getting the property zoned. The neighbor on the northwest corner of 30th and Western was an attorney and took on the courts, coming back that very afternoon with the property zoned for business. The good ol’ boy network came through and soon building began.
The Meriwethers hired Frank Wallace, the same architect as Oral Roberts used for The Oral Roberts University, to design the new ceramic shop building. During World War II, Norman worked with Naomi Wallace (before she married Frank) at Douglas Aircraft Company. Frank was serving his country during the war and married Naomi after returning and finishing his college degree in architecture in Arkansas. Still friends after the war, it was a natural fit for Frank to be the architect for the new ceramic shop.
Through the years, the focus of the business has changed. In the late 1960s and 1970s the business expanded into the art of china painting. White china was stocked along with brushes, paints, and oils. It was a new era for the House of Clay. The Meriwethers began printing patterns for china painters using the designs of local artists Jacque Gilman and Betty Manning. The House of Clay China Shop was located in a refurbished house next door to the ceramic shop along with a satellite shop on the I-35 service road near Brittain Road. The china painting business was extremely successful for the Meriwethers until the tides turned when china importers began selling directly to the public, virtually eliminating the business distributors.
Pottery is another art that has taken its turn in the ceramic shop and they still sell thousands of pounds of clay to ceramists and potters along with tools, kilns, glazes, brushes and potter’s wheels. The current trend in 2009 is bisque ceramic pieces made and imported from China. And “Paint-ins” where customers choose their ceramic piece, paint in the ceramic shop alone or with friends, and create a masterpiece.
The House of Clay is still a hopping business today, and the building and amazing, fantastic, incredible original sign look as modern as ever.