Daily News Journal - November, 1989
The "S" in Studio S Pottery, located at 1426 Avon Road, could stand for the surname of its owners, Lewis Snyder and son, Eric.
Or it could stand for "step," the first step that begins a journey and leads the traveler back home.
For the Snyders, the journey of their respective lives have led back to a love of creating beautiful objects with their hands.
And after 30 years, those objects have found their way into the homes of many people, as well as to foreign countries, corporations and five sitting U.S. presidents.
For Lewis Snyder, he never left his true love. Hailing originally from West Virginia, Lewis made his way to Murfreesboro and MTSU from Ohio University.
"I came from Ohio University to start the three-dimensional arts program at MTSU," Lewis explains as he stands in the upstairs gallery of the studio that will be one of many featured in this weekend's Murfreesboro Craft Artists Studio Tour.
"I took a leave of absence in the 1970s for an appointment by the governor's office to start the arts and crafts program for the state, and I started this at the same time.
"After the appointment was over, this was a good thing to come back to."
This Tennessee Ceramic Box sold quickly when it was featured on QVC. The boxes are one of the many items at Studio S Pottery.
In addition to his bachelor of arts degree from Glenville State College in West Virginia and his master of fine arts degree from Ohio University, Lewis has done studies across the globe.
Some of the places he has visited in the course of his craft have included postgraduate work in Rome, Italy; Bechyne, Czechoslovakia, where he was invited to participate in the International Ceramic Symposium; and as a member of the International Academy of Ceramics in Geneva, Switzerland.
His work has been displayed in the International Symposium of Ceramics, in Prague, Czechoslovakia; the Emerson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y.; the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York; and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
"I like doing the ruffled jars and large trays better than anything, but I also like working with anything sculptural," Lewis says.
While Lewis's study of stoneware has earned him quite a reputation as a potter, Eric took a different path to pottery. "Eric has been full time for 10 years, although he's been helping me since he was in kindergarten," Lewis notes. "He graduated with a broadcasting degree, but he likes the potting." A finished lantern is displayed in the studio's gallery.
After following his path of radio broadcasting, it was his love of pottery that led him back to pottery. Along with his father, Eric teaches the ongoing classes offered at the studio, but he also supervises the operation, promotion and management of the studio.
His emphasis is on hand-building, slab work, and the creation of new glazes, and his work has gained recognition across the globe as well, appearing in collections in U.S., France, Australia, and Japan.
The studio itself has also participated in a journey of sorts. It's hard to believe from looking at its cedar-and-glass front, but the structure originally started life as a dairy barn.
"The studio is built around an old silo," Lewis says. "All of this was originally a dairy barn, but rooms have been added. We didn't finish the last section until three years ago. We worked on it for 10 years before we could stop.
"It's evolved," he laughs.
The Snyders built around the barn's old silo, and first used that particular structure to house the studio's kilns.
However, as demand for Studio S Pottery increased, so did the demand for space, and the "silo room" was converted to a kind of waiting room for pieces needing to be fired.
The front of the studio houses pieces for sale and display. But the back rooms are where the journeys of countless students begin, and instead of a step, the journeys begin with a wheel. Bowls, lanterns, sculptures and more line the shelves of the workrooms. On other shelves, the work of the Snyders wait for glazing and firing as well.
Lewis admits that while there are certain forms he enjoys, it's the color that keeps his interest.
"I like doing the ruffled jars and large trays better than anything, but I also like working with anything sculptural," Lewis says. "But color is what we're really into. We make all our glazes, from the mathematical theory to the testing, and with every firing we do the glaze test."
But it's not a one-man show.
"Eric does a lot of the building, such as flat wall pieces, but we do the architectural work together," Lewis points out. "We confer on a lot of things."
The architectural work includes terra cotta tiles and handmade bricks, as well as other architectural elements produced by the studio, which are in demand.
"We just finished one section of the Brownsville, Texas, Courthouse, and we will finish the remainder at the first of the year," Eric says. He picks up a tile with a stylized flower as an example. "This is a crazy daisy terra cotta panel, and it will go on the outside of a house being built in St. Louis. We did a smaller version for the administration building at Auburn University, and we have also done work for Vanderbilt University and buildings on Music Row.
"We also did work for the Majestic Theater in Dallas, which is where Lee Harvey Oswald ran to after the shooting of President Kennedy," Eric adds.
Murals, ceramic tiles, and custom fittings are also part of the father-and-son repertoire.
"If anyone comes in here with an idea, and it can be done in clay, we try to do it," Eric says.
Although the two teach 50-plus students to transform those ideas into actual pieces each week, they are quick to point out that the equipment can make or break those pieces. In addition to raku and pit-firing techniques, traditional firing is used. Two large kilns -- one for dinnerware and one for larger pieces -- take up space in the area behind the classroom. And Tennessee's famous humidity can have a lot to do with efficient operation that equipment, Eric notes.
"A hot humid day will make the kiln sluggish," he explains. "The top has to be so much further ahead than the bottom in heat readings for the kiln to fire evenly, and when it's hot and humid, we have to correct it."
Changes in the weather can be beneficial as well.
"One time, it just wouldn't correct, because it was so hot and humid," he continues. "It started to rain, and that corrected it immediately. The rain took all of the humidity out of the air."
In life's journeys, the traveler learns to deal with the weather. But the traveler also learns from his or her mistakes. Lewis remembers one "mistake" well, and it's part of the motivation to be in the Studio Tour each year.
"We have been in all but one studio tour," he acknowledges. "We always had an open house for the same weekend they have the tour, and our clients expect us to have this special occasion. One year, we were so busy, we didn't have the open house.
"We got so many calls, we figured, we'd better not do that again."
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Lewis & Eric Snyder