Driving through Groton one day, I looked over my shoulder and saw an unrecognized storefront called the Clayroom. As a lover of clay and the mother of two children who also love clay, I was crossing my fingers this business was a new avenue for rainy day entertainment.
I decided to stop in and investigate. What I found was an abundant studio filled with giddy glaze covered children, a wall lined with bisqued pottery and another wall covered with local paintings.
The “paint your own pottery” business was a welcomed surprise. The interior was inviting and well planned but had a flavor of sophistication, as if opened by someone well travelled. That person was Prudence Hignett, better known as “Chickie”.
The West Hartford native, steeped in generations of family tradition, graduated from Russel Sage College with a bachelor's degree in education and was married shortly after. Hignett taught field hockey and physical education in the Bloomfield school system. After two children and a divorce, Hignett joined corporate America and did what she could to make ends meet for her family.
Hignett met her second husband, Bernard, and after just five years of marriage in 1985, he skied into a tree, became paralyzed and sustained permanent memory loss. Although Hignett says he has brief views into the past and a marvelous disposition, she was required to take charge.
“Women years ago were subsidiary to their spouse and I had to be resourceful,” she said. “Think of all the years you are passenger in the car with your partner. I’ve been the driver for over 26 years now.”
After transitioning into her life of change, she and Bernard refueled in Nantucket for a year, taking long walks and finding peace. Familiar with reinventing herself, Hignett pulled herself up and in her words, decided to “make good lemonade”.
Fourteen years ago, Hignett visited a small pottery studio of a family friend called the Play Pen in West Hartford. Inspired by the business, she cashed out her portfolio and opened the first Clayroom outside of Boston, followed by 10 more in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“I watched the apprentice one too many times and thought volume, so we went to Brazil to make the bisque ware,” says Hignett.
After rolling the dice and taking out two mortgages to subsidize the expansion, they lost everything.
Hignett had been vacationing in Groton since her early teens and the family had a summer home on the inner lagoon of Groton Long Point. She brought Bernard and they settled here in the family home. Hignett needed something to do, so she opened up the Clayroom in Groton. With similar nearby businesses in Niantic and Westerly, locals were familiar with the process and interested in the Clayroom's product.
Now, Hignett puts her attention into the Groton Clayroom and can often be found helping her young customers choosing glazes or painting pottery. In spite of her personal hurdles, Hignett has created a studio filled with joy and inspiration.
Hignett has lived nine lives and has pulled through with a positive outlook on life and a shiny disposition. She belongs to a book club, jogs and walks along the shores of Groton Long Point and plays bridge at the Groton Senior Center.
“Even with the business failure, I’d do it again. This is the best professional and social community experience I’ve ever had,” she says. “I’ve done so much and this has just topped it all.”
For more information on the Clayroom, visit http://www.clayroomgroton.com/