Ohio attracts artisans and entrepreneurs of all kinds, from glassmakers and potters to painters and snack food makers.
Many of the businesses that call the state home got their start decades ago, producing everything from aromatherapy and church candles to paintings, clay pots, glassware and potato chips. The one thing these products have in common is that they are proudly made in Ohio, and groups are welcome to tour their facilities, meet the artists, watch craft demonstrations or see the manufacturing process close-up.
Include visits to some of these distinctive manufacturing facilities on your next group tour of Ohio.
Zeber-Martell Gallery and Clay Studio
Claudia Zeber-Martell and Michael Martell have been making homemade clay objects in Akron since 1976. Zeber-Martell Gallery and Clay Studio is where the couple produces and displays their wares, everything from decorative vases, pots, lamps and Christmas ornaments to wineglasses, jewelry, cups, wall art and custom installations. Two assistants help the artists with the raw materials, but Claudia and Michael do all the finish work, coming up with numerous designs every year.
The artists are always working on 10 to 20 pieces at a time. Groups that come for a tour will be able to see how the clay items are made, from working the clay to get the air out of it to throwing pots on a pottery wheel, baking them in the kiln, decorating them and baking them again. The studio has five kilns, a slab roller, six pottery wheels and a spray booth.
Because of the pandemic, the artists have not been giving tours, so group leaders should call before they come. Their team will give artist talks in the gallery to educate visitors about how their products are made if studio tours are not yet available.
The holidays are a great time to visit the studio and gallery. The couple is famous in Ohio for their one-of-a-kind Christmas ornaments. They have produced 12 to 18 new designs every year for the past 30 years, which is “a highlight of our Christmas season,” said Zeber-Martell. “People come from a great distance to buy numerous ornaments.”
The gallery is open Monday through Saturday year-round and is open later and on Sundays during the holidays.
78th Street Studios
78th Street Studios in Cleveland houses 60 creative businesses under one roof. These range from furniture and houseware-makers to working artist studios and 15 commercial art galleries. It also is home to ARTneo: The Museum of Northeast Ohio Art. Groups might want to come for the facility’s free Third Friday event, when visitors can view the arts and crafts products of up to 60 artists; guest artisans and musical performances are also featured. The event attracts 2,000 to 3,000 visitors over a four-hour span, from 5 to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of each month.
The building spans two city blocks and is four stories tall. Built in 1905 for a mix of industrial businesses, it was consolidated into the world headquarters of American Greetings Corp. in 1960. The headquarters moved in the mid-’70s but its creative studios remained until 1989.
The current owners of the building purchased it in 2001 and just “celebrated 20 years of this craziness,” said Daniel Bush, owner and developer of 78th Street Studios. Along with artist studios, the building has five individual event venues of various sizes that are used for guest artisans during the Third Friday events.
The Hedge Art Gallery will set up private tours of the studios and will even add catered food and drinks if so desired. The gallery works with many of the building’s tenants to offer artist talks and demonstrations and give visitors a chance to shop for Ohio-made products.
Mosser Glass was founded by Thomas Mosser 50 years ago. He originally worked at Cambridge Glass, which was a huge factory in Cambridge until it went out of business in 1954. He founded his own company in 1959 by buying up used equipment and glass molds from other glass companies. He began by making glassware for the pharmaceutical industry but, in 1971, established Mosser Glass, which blends new designs with classic pieces, like coffee mugs, glasses, tableware, cake stands, pitchers, tumblers, mixing bowls and collectible items. Today, the company is run by Tom; his wife, Georgianna; and three of their four children: Tim, Sally and Mindy. The company employs more than 30 people.
Visitors to the factory can take a tour and see the glassmaking process from start to finish. There will be anywhere from four to 12 artists working in the factory, depending on what type of glassware is being made. Groups will watch them gather glass out of the furnace by hand, cut it off into a mold and press the glass into it by hand. Once it is turned out of the mold, it may be fire polished, depending on the type of piece it is, and then placed into a slow cooling process of about 3.5 hours. After it is done cooling, it is checked by hand, packed up for shipment or put into the company’s warehouse.
Mosser Glass makes 1,000 to 3,000 pieces a day. Its entire line of products is available for sale in the small store. It also makes custom pieces.
Root Candles has been in Medina for more than 150 years. The founder, Amos Ives Root, started his career as a medicine man in a traveling show. After he got married and settled down, he became fascinated with bees, starting his own honey company and founding Gleanings Magazine, the first-ever publication about beekeeping. Eventually he began using beeswax from his hives to make church candles that burn cleaner and longer. And though the company still makes religious candles, Root has branched out into decorative candles, candles in jars and tins, pillars, votives and tapers.
Many of the candles are infused with natural, floral and aromatherapy fragrances. Other candlemakers dip their candles in fragrance, but Root Candles’ fragrances are mixed into the wax ensuring that customers will enjoy their scent as long as they are burning.
Groups that tour the factory will be split into smaller groups and then watch a slide presentation about the company’s colorful history before being taken through the production process. They also will see the lab where the company tests all its candles to see how long and how well they burn. At the end of the tour, guests can take home a free votive candle.
Conn’s Potato Chips
Conn’s Potato Chips are an Ohio staple. The family-owned snack-maker has been in business in Zanesville since 1935, making regular and wavy potato chips that come in original, barbecue, sweet mesquite barbecue, salt and vinegar, green onion, no salt, and cinnamon and sugar varieties. Sweet onion is a new flavor coming soon. The factory, which employs 90 people, cooks about a 250,000 potatoes a week and sells its chips strictly in Ohio or online.
Tours of the factory take about 30 minutes and can accommodate groups of any size. Visitors can see potatoes being unloaded, washed, peeled, sliced and poured into the fryer. When they come out of the fryer, they are salted, seasoned, bagged and placed on pallets. The factory itself is 95,000 square feet and produces 40,000 to 80,000 bags of chips per day.
Different types of chips are made on different days. Some days the factory produces only regular chips. Other days it produces only wavy chips, but the company runs flavors all the time. After the tour, groups can purchase fresh potato chips hot off the line.
Conn’s only manufactures potato chips but sells other products branded under the Conn’s name, like cheese puffs, pretzels and popcorn.