Fascinating Folks, by Yvonne Moon
November 8-14, 2007
Lewis Snyder and Studio S Pottery
As I go about my days as a reporter for the Rutherford Reader, I continue to be amazed at the vast wealth of treasure and talent that exists in our community. This week was another of those times when I walked away from the interview, grateful for the experience I had just been granted.
By spending an hour with a man and his musings, surrounded by his artistic creations, I understood the spectacular nature of his work.
Even his studio is a reflection of his eye for beauty. Tucked away on a historical piece of property where Civil War battles once raged, today sits an architectural wonder surrounded by trees and the beauty of nature.
The building that houses Studio S Pottery, owned and operated by Lewis Snyder since 1970, is an old dairy barn, remodeled inside and out with western red cedar. The front features a two-story arched window that makes for a dramatic entrance into the studio. Once inside, the cedar walls and sun-drenched glass of the two-level display area continue to draw one into a world of creative imagery. Hundreds of pieces of handcrafted pottery, terra cotta, stoneware and raku products line the shelves, tables and walls.
Most of us can identify pottery but may be unfamiliar with the terms of terra cotta and raku. Raku is a type of pottery dating back to ancient times that originated in Japan. It involves a process by which pottery is ﬁred at a relatively low temperature and then moved while hot to a closed container. Combustible materials that ignite (such as paper or sawdust) are added, causing a reaction creating colors and patterns in the pottery's surface.
Terra cotta is an architectural material often used in place of steel, block, brick, marble, or stone work. Besides its durability and long lasting qualities, it is often used to enhance the beauty of a building. Terra cotta works created by Studio S can be found throughout the Southeast and Midwest from Chicago to south Texas. Just a few of the structures featuring terra cotta by Snyder include the masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright, decorative bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas and historic restoration work of the Majestic Theatre in Dallas.
As you make your way into the studio, one can’t help but notice the numerous photos of dignitaries and letters from notables covering the front wall. During the Carter years, Lewis Snyder was asked to select 10 potters to produce 11 place settings (dinnerware) for the Congressional Club luncheon. He, of course, included one of his own designs. After the event, when the different place settings were divided up between museums, Snyder’s original was selected for display at the Smithsonian. He’s also created handmade place settings for all the presidents since Nixon with the exception of the current administration. Among the wall of memorabilia, there’s a handwritten note of appreciation from Hillary Clinton for the angel figurine ornament (containing red garnet and rose tiger-eye stones) that Snyder created for one of the Clintons’ White House Christmas trees.
So how did this person who began his college days as a political science major become a student and later a teacher of the arts? In the early 1960’s, he took an art orientation class to fulﬁll his educational requirements and discovered an untapped interest and talent for working with clay and sculpture. In time, he graduated from Glenville State College in West Virginia with a Bachelor’s Degree of Arts. He then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Ohio and did post graduate work and International Studies abroad in Rome, Italy. In the late 1960’s, Snyder moved to Murfreesboro when MTSU offered him a position in the Arts Department. He later went on to become the State Director of Crafts for the Tennessee Arts Commission.
During this period, Snyder helped develop business education programs and worked with local artists and businesses to develop more marketing opportunities. One memorable story he relayed was about a young East Tennessee woman who was on welfare and barely scraping by. She had a unique talent for using old barn boards and walnuts to create handmade owl plaques. After incorporating the suggestions of Snyder for making and marketing her craft, she was able to produce sufﬁcient income to live an independent life without public assistance. Another major accomplishment during Snyder’s tenure ---when nearby Woodbury craftspeople were able to increase the selling price of their goods after major distributors and national retailers were made aware of the excellent quality and availability of the local wares.
Lewis Snyder didn’t impact the world in the political arena as he had originally intended as a young man. Instead, he has used his hands and business skills to help residents of the local and international community. To some, he has taught the skill of pottery making for pleasure and relaxation. To others, he has taught a livelihood. For many, near and far, who have marveled at the detailed artistry of his work, he has offered the opportunity of viewing and appreciating a quality of work seldom mastered.
For in a time when many potters use ready-made ingredients and glaze, he works to perfect the art using organic materials in their original form. It was most likely his dedication and passion for the arts that helped Tennessee to gain the largest art grant in the state ---ﬁve million dollars in funding that helped to finance the creation of the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Crafts in nearby Smithville.
The city of Murfreesboro is indebted to Lewis Snyder for his ongoing contribution in helping to keep our community on the cultural map.
Make plans now to stop by Studio S Pottery during the upcoming Murfreesboro Craft Artists Studio Tour, Saturday and Sunday November 17 & 18, 2007 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Nine studios and 30 artists will be participating. It’s fun, it free -www.artstudiotour.org for more information.
Whether his work is on display locally, in New York City, the White House, or Prague ---he’s certainly made his mark on the world!