Brent Smith still has a way with clay

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
It’s the kind of economy that forces some artists into other jobs, but local potter Brent Smith is still at his craft, making lots of pots and broadening his horizons as he tries new things.
“It’s tough,” he says, referring to the economy.
But Smith has a good following, he says, and working full time at what he loves is still viable. (He’s quick to give lots of credit to wife Kim, who works at Catawba College and makes sure the family has health insurance.)
A well-respected potter with an easygoing way, Smith was recently honored by having one of his pieces selected for a joint exhibit at the Mint Museum Randolph and the Pottery Center in Seagrove. The special exhibition is called “A Thriving Tradition: 75 Years of Collecting North Carolina Pottery.”
The Mint Museum acquired one of his pieces, Smith says, when he participated in an invitational show there in 2005. Smith hasn’t seen the new exhibit yet but is planning to go after the holidays are over.
Although Smith is known for his elegant large vessels, it’s his mugs that have been attracting a lot of attention at a local restaurant lately.
The owners of Cooper’s, Joseph and Leslie Cataldo, asked Smith to create 50 different mugs for the new restaurant. The plan was for Cooper’s patrons to buy the 22-ounce mugs, which would stay behind the bar and be used by their owners when they come in. The idea was a hit, and all of the mugs have been claimed.
Making 50 different mugs was a challenge, Smith says, and it prompted him to try new things — like adding faces to his work.
Smith said that he had “always resisted” doing face mugs but found that he enjoyed making them for Cooper’s.
“I like the idea of mugs at a bar, being used,” he said.
That attitude goes along with what has always been Smith’s traditional approach: pottery as functional.
These days, Smith says he’s making more smaller items than he used to, an adjustment partly due to the economy. He still loves making large pots because of their imposing presence and because they pose a challenge.
He continues to do some wood-fired pieces using a kiln that he built in 1993 at his mother’s house after he graduated from East Carolina University. Even then, Smith knew that he wanted to devote his work life to making pottery. That he’s still doing it now, 18 years later, is “definitely what I hoped for,” he says.
Smith used to be a co-owner of the Green Goat Gallery in Spencer. After he and Cara Reische sold the gallery in 2007, Smith renovated a garage to use as a studio at the Stokes Ferry Road home he shares with wife Kim and daughter Brenna. Having a studio at home allows Smith more flexibility in juggling parenthood and his art than he had at the Green Goat.
Smith drops 6-year-old Brenna off at Faith Elementary in the mornings and then returns to his studio to make pottery, with trusty companion cat French Fry never far away.
In a separate renovated outbuilding, Smith has a well-stocked gallery of his work that is for sale. Smith wants customers to know that they can come out during the week while he’s working and he’ll be happy to make his wares available to them.
His work is also available at the Green Goat Gallery and at the Waterworks Visual Arts Center’s gift shop.
Smith also sells on Etsy, an e-commerce website that focuses on handmade items. He believes that internet sales will become more important to his business in the future.
Smith has an opening coming up —the Eleventh Hour Pottery Sale — at his home studio/gallery at 4885 Stokes Ferry Road. It’s set for Saturday, Dec. 17 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 18 from noon to 5 p.m.
Otherwise, holiday hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sundays from noon-4 p.m.
For more information, call Smith at 704-633-1989.