Ceramic Pastime Reshapes Couple's Lives

December 06, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Clay touches nearly everything in the Smith household.

Even the five cats, part of an extensive critter collection, drink from slightly flawed ceramic bowls -- rejected by Chris Smith, 40, resident potter.

Two floors of the barn are full of tools to produce works in clay. Most days, Chris and Jackie Smith, ceramic artists, can be found working in their barn-turned-studio.

Mr. Smith lends a personality to his pieces with the faces he sculpts into vases that begin on the potter's wheel. He creates visages by pushing features out from the interior of the vases.

Then, he adds clay to create a chin, a nose and eyes. His faces may wear hats or be surrounded with curls. The images could be a smiling harlequin, a pensive woman or his grandmother copied from a photo.

"It is hard to part with my work but when people like it and are willing to pay for it, there is a validation to my art," he said.

Jackie Smith, his wife, adds a note of practicality. "We can only have so much pottery," she said. "Buyers really love it. So, we know it is going to a good home."

Clay is Ms. Smith's media, also. She fashions fantasy, utility and beauty from ceramic tiles. She creates custom patterns for the kitchen and makes tile-topped furniture and counters for kitchens or bathrooms. She frames mirrors with varied tile patterns, often bringing a fairy tale to life.

"Much of our work is unique," said Ms. Smith, 45. "Its individual-ness makes it collectible."

Together the couple have formed Gooseneck Designs, named for the geese that parade around their Westminster property. In their renovated barn, they have built a studio for two.

"I am a morning person and he is night, so we both have quiet time in the studio," Ms. Smith said. "Firing is the hard part, though. We have to schedule that."

It takes a day and a half to fire the kiln and another two days for the clay works to cool down.

"She is always hogging the kiln," Mr. Smith said with a laugh. "We can't mix our stuff because we need different temperatures."

The couple met in California when he went to work for her wooden toy business.

"The business didn't last, but Chris did," she said.

When the Smiths moved to a turn-of-the-century farmhouse in Carroll County five years ago, their clay work was a pastime, an addendum to their full-time jobs.

"I have worked with ceramics since grade school," said Mr. Smith, who studied architecture in college.

He purchased used equipment and began a sideline.

"Chris wasn't using all his creative abilities before; now he can," Ms. Smith said.

She said an attraction to her husband's pottery led to her interest in ceramics and tiles.

"I was fascinated with the whole creative process and played around with the equipment to counterbalance stress," she said.

The couple, members of the American Craft Association, produced enough pottery and tile work to participate in several national craft fairs.

Layoffs and job-related stress led them to rethink their careers and devote themselves full time to their crafts.

"It is kind of risky depending on yourself for everything, but less stressful," said Mr. Smith. "I used to spend four hours a day in the car driving to and from work. Now there is no commuting time from here to the barn."

The Smiths create and market their crafts, often working seven days a week at their trades.

"I can't remember when we last had a day off, but we really are enjoying ourselves," Ms. Smith said. "There really is less stress. If we are under stress, it is because we put ourselves there."

Next month, visitors to Gooseneck Designs can browse through a gallery filled with ceramic art that the Smiths plan to open in a converted summer kitchen on their Hughes Shop Road property.

"We will just tell people to look for the pink house down the road," she said.

The color was the perfect match for the stone used in the house's foundation, she said.

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