From teaching to art studio owner

Cathy Daniels Rivas has topped off a career in art education spanning four decades with a foray into entrepreneurship as the proprietor of Dancing on Tabletops Studio, an art space ideal for new creative adventures, according to its website.

Opened early last year just outside of Greenfield, Rivas’ new venture is the product of determination, navigating pandemic-era financial and logistical hurdles, and taking on the, “learning curve” of figuring out how, as an artist and former art teacher for 42 years at Greenfield Elementary, to run a business for the first time.

The idea for the studio initially grew out of a desire to build something on her family’s ancestral southern Ohio farmland. The land that had been in the family for almost two centuries became an inspiration for Rivas’ entrepreneurial dreams.

“That land had stayed in our family for all those years, and I didn’t know if I should build a house out there or what to do,” she said.

Though amorphous at first, her plans gradually began to take shape as she considered her post retirement options.

“I wanted to build a cabin,” she said.

Incorporating the idea of an art studio came later.

“I started selling my work at a gallery in Columbus, you know, with a little bit of success,” she said of her beginnings as an entrepreneurial artist. “So I thought I’d like to have a place to do this art.”

With some advice and introspection, she finalized the idea of building an art studio as a rural retreat for artistic collaboration. The, “build it and they will come” paradigm proved somewhat problematic, as the pandemic hit right around the time Rivas began the construction process for what was to become Dancing on Tabletops Studio.

Now that the project is completed, Rivas said that the studio has evolved into everything and more than she could have ever anticipated.

“We opened with a wine-tasting event and then went straight from there to art workshops for art camp for kids,” Rivas said. “We have offered different workshops and opportunities for the last several months. From the beginning, I’ve had such positive feedback from people that I felt confident that it was well-received.”

Still, starting a new business at a time replete with price increases and supply chain issues wasn’t without its challenges, according to Rivas, who remarked that one notable obstacle has been, “how much everything costs.” She said that her anticipated budget was quickly exceeded as pandemic issues complicated her initial plans unexpectedly.

Her steadfast confidence in the validity and importance of the project, though, superseded those unanticipated concerns and complications. She said that she believed that it was something that was needed in the area and to which people would respond affirmatively.

While the memorable Dancing on Tabletops name isn’t to be taken literally, Rivas cautioned laughingly, the studio and its tabletops do facilitate a diversity of arts and crafts that Rivas said is a constant learning experience.

“I think one thing I guess I should mention is that I enjoy, for myself, the opportunity to learn from other artists that have come into teach classes,” she said.

Some of those classes have included a diverse panoply of instructors, facilitating thoroughly engrossing activities including a woodworking workshop taught by a local artisan, Eric Salyers, of Greenfield. Rivas said that workshops can be customized according to the needs and interests of the participants, which can be comprised of a small group at a time.

Workshops at the studio have included a family that made hand-lettered sings from old barn wood; bridal activities; and an office staff team-building activity that included a yoga session and dinner, Rivas said.

She said that creating things is part of the human experience that can benefit anyone regardless of their skill level. She said that making art can be a way for people to feel successful and that it doesn’t have to be perfect. She said the creative process is more important.

As demand for the unique and specialized services her rural studio provides has grown, Rivas observed, “I guess I have to be careful not to let myself get too overwhelmed.”

She said that while technology has changed many artists’ approaches to their craft, she prefers traditional art methodologies. “You know, I think it’s an individual thing,” she said.

Rivas shared a story about a fellow artist whose methods were traditional, but whose results defied expectations.

“I have a very good friend, Michael Whapham, that was the lead artist at Franklin Art Glass, which was a stained glass studio in Columbus, and I’d go watch him make windows for churches that’ll be around for hundreds of years, and I used to ask him, you know, ‘How do you do this? Do you do this all on a computer? Do you get this all designed out for you?’”

Rather than affirm, she said, “He pointed to this really sharp pencil and replied, ‘No. I use pencil and paper.’”

Rivas said this affirmation of traditional artistic methods and artisanal craftsmanship and the importance of the artist over technology, is one that she took to heart over the years.

She said that art and business knowledge aren’t always compatible but that knowledge of business is vital for working artists and should be offered as s comprehensive part of art education curriculum. She said that website design, a modern necessity for contemporary entrepreneurs, was a challenge.

Avery Applegate, a local artist who has known Rivas since high school where they were classmates, will be presenting an upcoming Assemblage Jewelry worship at the studio next month, spaces for which quickly sold out in advance.

This is another keynote in the history of the longtime friends and onetime rivals who, according to Rivas, once, “competed against each other in county art shows and opportunities.”

Rivas said that their lives as artists took on some coincidental similarities, as both became dedicated art teachers and each pursued individual careers as artists following their retirement, despite having different artistic specialities.

“She grew into the things that she was interested in and I grew into the things that I was interested in,” Rivas said. Rather than a rival, Rivas said that Applegate has been one of her most staunch supporters.

Rivas said that Applegate is one of many creative visitors to the studio who inspire her to learn more.

“She’s more experienced at going to workshops and things than I am, and she’s been a great help to me, and just a wonderful support system for me,” Rivas said.

Laura Wagner, owner of Chambliss Creek Studios, a graphic design company in Greenfield, and a friend of Rivas, documented the eclectic, artsy beauty of the studio on Instagram including a framed genealogical record, scribed by hand, that Rivas said was stumbled upon when she and her brother were cleaning out their mother’s house. The purpose of the now-antiqued paper was documenting the birth of the many children of Rivas’ great-great-great-great-grandparents, William Douglass and Mary Scott, who were married in 1787. The archived ephemera, which Rivas said she carefully preserved, is just one of many delightful flourishes and personal touches that have peppered the studio.

Wagner said that she is happy to help convey the news of the studio’s success on social media and that Rivas is somebody whose artistry she has long admired.

“Just being around her is an experience in itself,” Wagner said.

Rivas said that one of the studio’s frequent instructors, Cindi Pearce, who teaches yoga classes, is another person who has frequently championed the studio on social media.

“She’s always, ‘Guess what’s going on at the studio this week?’, and she’s always putting it out there,” Rivas said.

Pearce, who described Rivas as, “the consummate artist,” said, “I teach yoga at Dancing on Tabletops Studio and I couldn’t have asked for a more suitable venue. The studio is situated next to a cornfield and the most glorious light fills the studio.

In addition to making art, Rivas also creates an all-inclusive environment for workshop participants by preparing food for them, if needed.

“Everything she touches and produces, including her food, is amazing,” raved Pearce.

Rivas said the opportunity for people to get together and socialize as they create art in an idyllic country hideaway is another component of what makes the workshop experience memorable.

Pearce attributed the convivial studio atmosphere to the generosity of Rivas.

“If I had to describe Cathy in one word,” she mused, “I would saygenerous. She is generous with her time, her talent, and he studio, and she is a wonderful asset to Greenfield.”

For more information about Dancing on Tabletops Studio, visit

Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.