Ceramic Arts Network: Did you come to pottery from a different career? Tell us about your journey and how your previous career informs your ceramic career.
Rachel Smith: My collection and admiration of pottery started about 43 years ago. My husband and I were newly wed, and we attended a craft fair at our university. I saw a piece of pottery I really loved, but couldn’t afford so we walked away. Later that day, we returned to purchase it from our meager funds and found that it was already sold. That is when I learned if you really love a one-of-a-kind item, don’t walk away from it. We gave a lot of pottery as gifts in our early days, and gradually realized that we loved the pottery more than the recipients. This led to us buying it (and making it) for ourselves.
I received a bachelor’s in Biochemistry and found jobs in the drinking water treatment field. Later, I got a masters degree in Environmental Engineering and continued in my drinking water career along with a masters in Administration.
An opportunity arose for me to move to Asheville, NC where my parents had semi-retired to take over my father’s manufacturing plant–Karpen Steel Custom Doors and Frames. I love watching things being made–be it pottery, glass blowing, cooking, or hard manufacturing such as what we did at our plant. From sheets of flat metal we produced custom steel doors, windows, and door frames. Our industry required exactness to 1/64″.
I needed an outlet for meeting people, expressing my creative energy and relaxation therapy so a friend and I started taking classes in pottery. From there I joined Squeaky Wheel Potters–a community pottery studio of 20 potters. I was a member for about 4 years.
Driving to Asheville was difficult some days because I was still working so I looked around my hometown of Weaverville for another studio space. While looking for a studio, a space in the industrial building I own became available and I created a shared studio there. Reems Creek Pottery is celebrating our second anniversary (which included a month of being shut down due to a fire).
September 2016 I retired from the steel manufacturing world and spend most of my days in the pottery studio. We have a small gallery for our 6 resident potters to sell their work. Each potter has their own dedicated space, as well as shared equipment.
I prefer handbuilding, working loose, and letting the clay tell me some days what it wants to be or how to texture or glaze it. Leaving the precision of my previous profession has been very opening and enlightening and relaxing to me.
Photos by Jim Metlicka.