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Gini Seibert has never really fashioned herself as a much of a merchant or shopper, even though she’s run a successful storefront in downtown Sonora for more than three decades.
In February, Seibert will close her nonprofit Out of Hand Creative Arts Center at 189 S. Washington St. to focus more time and energy on what she enjoys most — teaching clay art programs for local schools and community groups.
“It’s not that I’m retiring, I’m just downsizing,” said Seibert, 71, of Sonora. “I decided to downsize to a workshop where I can have my kiln, equipment and supplies and still go out into the community.”
The center will be open during Second Saturday Art Night from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday for a final celebration to commemorate Seibert’s nearly 35-year run.
Seibert was born into a family who appreciated arts, crafts and music. She’s from Quincy, Massachusetts, and moved to California after college to work as a program director for the USO in San Francisco.
Seibert’s got her first taste of Tuolumne County on camping trips with volunteers and servicemen in the USO. She later moved to Santa Cruz, where she ran a clay program, before eventually making her way to Sonora in 1981.
Throughout the years, Seibert got to know a number of potters and decided to open a business called Pottery Plus on North Stewart Street in 1983 to showcase and sell their work.
“Some old timers still call it Pottery Plus,” Seibert said.
Pottery Plus moved to Out of Hand’s current space in 1985. By the mid-1990s, Seibert started shifting the focus of the business to glaze-your-own-pottery that customers could fire in the kiln she keeps in the back of the store.
Part of the reason for reducing the store’s retail offerings and shifting to a more do-it-yourself model was because Seibert wanted to offer a more creative, hands-on experience, while the other part of it was survival.
Walmart had opened in 1993 and was expected to take away customer traffic from small retail businesses in the downtown, so Seibert knew she had to adapt.
Seibert also began offering clay classes and teaching at local schools through the Central Sierra Arts Council, now known as the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance.
“I never publicized it, but it kind of just got a life of its own,” Seibert said. “People loved the projects we did.”
In 2000, Seibert and her business raised $25,000 to help build the Heaven for Kids playground at 480 Greenley Road by selling tiles that people could glaze. She also started a glazing program at Pinecrest Reservoir that same year.
Seibert turned the business into a nonprofit organization and rechristened it as Out of Hand Creative Arts Center in 2001.
The center and Seibert contributed to numerous community efforts and causes over the years, including leading an effort to create 820 clay ornaments that were displayed on the 2011 Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., which was harvested from the Stanislaus National Forest near Dardanelle.
Sierra Waldorf School in Jamestown launched an outreach center in a section of Out of Hand in 2006, a partnership that lasted until a few years ago. Seibert also began offering ukulele classes in 2014.
Seibert said one of the reasons she felt it’s time to close the business is because her longtime landlord, Ken Bisordi, passed away earlier this year at age 90.
Bisordi never increased her rent by much in the 30-plus years she operated out of the space, but the building was recently re-appraised following Bisordi’s death and she expects costs to rise.
“His family has been very kind to me, so I don’t have any complaints,” Seibert said.
Seibert said one of the things she’ll miss most about running the center is the people who drop by from time to time just to check in with her. She doesn’t have any children of her own, but has seen many in the community grow into adults.
Despite the center’s impending closure, Seibert said she doesn’t plan to stop teaching and working with the community.
“This has given me a place to serve the community,” Seibert said. “It’s never been just a store. It’s always had a community spirit.”