Snyder Works on Hotel Restoration
by Jane Mier
Accent Staff Writer
Daily New Journal Accent, Sunday,
September 28, 1980
Things don't look the way they used to at Lewis Snyder's Studio S.
Sure, the clay is still sitting around on the wheels, the counters and the floor. And Snyder's apprentices are still bent over their wheels. And the shop is still cluttered with...what?
Rows and rows of spindle-looking pieces are lined up and large, square slabs are stacked in one corner. It doesn't look like the usual offering of mugs, platters and pots.
Studio S, located at 1426 Avon Rd., has been partially converted into (for the time being, that is) a manufacturing company specializing in restoring missing or damaged parts of old buildings.
Since this summer, Snyder has been under a private contract to replace the original terra cotta work in Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. The hotel, located downtown beside the Hyatt Regency, is scheduled for a grand opening at Christmas. Snyder hopes to have his work finished by the end of the month.
"We were the only ones they could find to do this work," he said, adding that a New York firm offered to do it but had to have a three year work period. Snyder is completing the job in 90 days.
"During the early part of the century, a lot of architectural work done on major buildings was terra cotta," he said. "Terra cotta is somewhere between earthenware and stoneware. It's brick-like but more refined. And it looks like polished marble."
Snyder, who has been potting for nearly 20 years, and his three apprentices have spent the past two and a half months producing approximately 225 wall slabs, balusters, frieze and cornice pieces. All of the pieces are made at the studio, where they are picked up about once a week and taken to Nashville to be installed.
"I'm sorry I haven't had the chance to go to the hotel and see it yet," Snyder said. "We've been so busy with this work and our Christmas orders that I haven't had time."
Since this summer, the potter has been hard at work developing the clay and glaze for this restoration job.
"We're using the same clay we usually use, with a few adjustments," he said. "We've added grog, a hard ground up clay, to it. This lessens its elasticity but, at the same time, lessens the shrinkage you get when a piece dries."
Many weeks were spent experimenting with the glaze. Original pieces from the hotel were matched "almost perfectly." Then the building was cleaned and it was discovered the glaze was a frosty white instead of the creamier color Snyder had created.
"So we had to do it again," Snyder said. "We also had to readjust the way we fire the pieces. We usually use gas kilns but had to turn to electricity this time."
It seems the white glaze turns a "salt and pepper" shade when fired with gas heat. The pieces are also up to four inches thicker than the work usually done at Studio S, therefore requiring a lower temperature to make the firing more uniform.
The balusters, which are composed of two spindle-type pieces and weigh a total of 16 pounds or more, are thrown on a wheel. The wall slabs are rolled out and cut by hand, and the others are hand modeled. The largest hand sculpted piece is an elaborately curved column top, which weighs nearly 50 pounds. Plaster molds were made for the frieze and cornices, which are scalloped, curved, arched and crescented in an elaborate design.
A St. Louis firm is heading the restoration work, but most contractors are local. Snyder said the Historical Society was also making recommendations on the work."It took us about a week to decide to do this," he recalled. "We looked at the building then came back here to discuss it. We felt we could do it."
The artists were given samples and fragments of the original terra cotta work in the hotel. The building has been altered through the years and some sections were missing.
Snyder and his crew have finished making the pieces, which have to dry for about a week before they are fired. It takes a day to fire and another day to cool. The pieces are then painted with the glaze and fired again.
"We're anxious to get this job completed and see it installed," he said. " I feel this will be one of the best buildings, architecturally, in Nashville. It's the best example of art nouveau in the city.
"Its ballroom will be one of the finest in the South, as far as its style goes. There is a lot of decorative plaster work in addition to the terra cotta."
This is the first major architrectural work Snyder has ever done and he says he'd like to do more. "It will be a relief to have it over, I guess," he said. "I don't like construction deadlines, though, and don't like to have to promise when it will be done. I would have like a few more weeks to experiment."