It is an artist’s intent to captivate, surprise, and incite a turn of the head that suggests there’s something magical going on here. Naples potter extraordinaire Jim Rice does just that with his whimsical, Nemo-esque clay fish platters and mosaics that have been delighting Naples residents for more than four decades.
Born in Kent, Ohio, Rice moved to Naples in 1973 and opened his first studio. In 1980, he expanded to his current location on Shadowlawn Drive. Known as The Clay Place, this lush, verdant compound with its laid-back vibe (think Naples circa 1969) is comprised of three buildings: a studio, a kiln room, and a sun-lit gallery.
“This is a great location, a corner property, tucked away off the beaten path, and I am blessed to have it,” says Jim. “It’s my sanctuary.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say his tropical-colored clay sensations are everywhere you turn in Naples. From the popular Poem Fish (personalized platters with poems such as “A fisherman lives here with the catch of his life!”) to wall murals, wedding pottery, and everything in between. Among his latest popular creations are a microwave bacon crisper and an egg poacher—doesn’t everyone need one?
Take a trip to The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, where Rice’s whimsical marine life clay plaques are used as room numbers and restroom markers. During the hotel’s most recent renovation, he created custom tiles in the swimming pool to replace the original ones he designed 25 years earlier. “He pressed pine branches, sea grape leaves, and other pieces of nature [into the tiles],” says Ellin Goetz, an acclaimed landscape architect whose husband’s family owns the hotel. “It was incredible, and so reflective of Naples,” she adds.
For another project, he made a pair of Haitian-style hippos that were installed in a mosaic format in the deep end of the swimming pool. “Exhibiting an artist’s eye and a craftsman’s sensibility, he uses colors in a natural way that are so reflective of the Gulf of Mexico,” Goetz says. “That’s simply quite endearing and unique.”
Rice’s ceramic art is straightforward and reflective of the man—carefully seeded with an abundance of pith and play. There is no pretense here, what you see is what you get. And what you get is positively, authentically happy.