Paula Smith creates decorative and functional work based on numerous influences and often takes a light hearted, whimsical approach. Her hand-built pieces tell stories through the use of milagros, female imagery, archetypal house forms and interpretations of nature. Paula has a BFA in ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute, and an MFA in ceramics from the University of Illinois. She currently teaches at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC.
How did you get started in clay?
The first time I worked with clay I took an art class at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. I was maybe in third grade; I made a giraffe. Later in high school I took various art classes and fell in love with ceramics. My teacher (Mrs. Costello, a short Latina) saw how much I loved working with clay and gave me a scholarship for a summer ceramics class at the Kansas City Art Institute. The professor during that summer program was Clary Illian, and she gave me a scholarship to attend KCAI for an undergraduate degree.
Mrs. Costello changed my life with that high school scholarship. My mother wanted me to study design, but I wouldn’t listen to her. I loved creating with clay. It was soft, and I felt I could make anything I wanted.
What five words best describe your work?
The first word is whimsical. As much as I try to deny it, this the word fits me to a “T.” Nature-inspired, happy, fanciful, and for most of the work at Lark & Key – functional.
What is your biggest artistic influence?
My biggest influences are nature and the feminine mystique, I keep inspirational files of magazine clippings (this was before Pinterest, which I now do as well). I collect photocopies of things I see in books, paper napkins, and found objects. Lately I walk through our house and draw ideas from my collection of travel souvenirs and things I have purchased in antique flea markets and second hand stores.
Tell us a bit about your technique.
I am a hand builder, which means I work with coils and slabs of clay and vary rarely use the potter’s wheel. I use plaster molds for sprigs, which are low-relief embellishments like the feet or buttons on my lidded jars and oval casserole dishes. I also use plaster molds to apply textures to the clay slabs.
What is a typical day like in your studio?
There really is no typical day in the studio. I am a full time art instructor at Central Piedmont Community College. I work around my full time job. I also have a studio in our backyard, which allows me to work any time I feel like it, even in my pajamas. I love having my studio at home. I can work in my studio while my desserts are baking in the oven. I often have HGTV, Food Network, or PBS playing on my studio TV or if I want to get jump-started I will put on Led Zeppelin. If I have had enough stimulation I just listen to the perfect quiet.
What do you love most about being a ceramic artist?
I am a creative person, I love to travel, decorate, garden, bake and throw parties. Everything I do is a creative act. I try to live my life to its fullest. I often say I am either going, going, going or I am lying down. Sometimes I can’t keep up with all that is on my plate but that must be how I want to live my life.
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