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SUPERMUD MEMBER PROFILES
by Iva Smith
Iva Smith - Owner
Supermud constitutes a special community of teachers and students, each bringing something unique to the environment and to their work. This is the first in a series of Studio Member PROFILES, interviews with some of our fellow potters. What better place to start than Iva Smith, Supermud’s owner.
Scottie Twine talked with Iva on a recent Saturday afternoon in the studio being warmed by the kilns working overtime to fire work destined for – among others things - Supermud’s upcoming Holiday Show & Sale.
“Step One: Enjoy!” So says Iva Smith, teacher and owner of Supermud Pottery. She’d been talking about watching kids work with clay on the wheel. “They’re not here to make a plate or a set of mugs, only to enjoy the “machine” [the wheel] and the clay and the water.” In other words, they’re here to play in the mud!
Iva has always liked working with her hands – knitting, sewing, building, transforming materials to create something new. She’s loved clay as a medium since her first pottery lesson in 1988 with Maxine Krasnow, the studio’s founder. Truth be told, pottery was her second choice at that time for a new hobby; she’d originally planned to take a carpentry class, but the school had closed.
Iva said, “I love the feel of the clay on my skin and the smell of it. I love that I can make something.... Then I can use the bowl I made for my ice cream, or give it away.” In fact, Iva has no problem giving away her work. If a friend sees something they like, she’s happy to give it to them. “The fun is in the making,” she says, and “sometimes you make something and, after you use it for a while, you see the things you want to do differently, to make it better. It’s totally a continuing process.”
Iva is always trying new things, but her focus for many years was on bowls and planters. Bowls because “they feel good, a bowl is friendly, and the variety of bowls is amazing – an oatmeal bowl is very different from a fruit bowl.” Planters because she loves plants. And her unique “city planter pots” were inspired by Iva’s regular walks around the city; they combined her interest in the city’s architecture with her love of creating pots.
For a few years she collaborated with artist friends – Iva would throw or build, say, four pieces and the other artist would paint or otherwise embellish them, then each would keep two of the pieces. Iva really enjoys the collaborative process and it’s one of the things she particularly likes about the Supermud community – where so many different people have ideas and suggestions and questions, all of which stimulate and inspire.
As one would expect, Iva’s work has evolved over the years. Since retirement she’s had more time to spend at the wheel and on individual pieces. She’s still making bowls, of course, and also experimenting with textures. Right now Iva is focused on creating the perfect handle for her mugs, one that “feels just right” both physically and aesthetically.
Like most of us, throughout her years with clay Iva had a “day job” and recently retired from a 40-year career as a special ed teacher. From the time she was a little girl, Iva knew she wanted to teach. As an elementary school teacher she soon realized it was the children who struggled to learn who interested her most; she also saw that using unique ways to help them made a real difference. So, while continuing to work full-time, Iva completed her Masters in Special Education
at Columbia University Teachers College. Following her on-going belief that
“if you do what feels right, the rest will follow,” Iva went to an interview at a school in Spanish Harlem and was offered a job right away. She remained there for 30
more years, teaching Kindergarten through 8th grade.
Teaching for Iva has always been a way of sharing her love of making things. Interestingly, Iva almost always brought clay into her special ed classrooms. “Children can form their world [from clay]. Whatever they’re thinking about,
they can build. Whatever their fears, they can build. Whatever their dreams,
they can make them.”
Uniting her love of teaching and love of clay was a natural. Iva likes teaching both children and adults, but she particularly enjoys working with beginners. Knowing that students often benefit from figuring things out for themselves, her approach
is to break down the information and get them started – let them know she’s available if they need her – but give them time to work questions out on their own, introducing different techniques and tools as each is ready.
But, of course, Iva’s not just a teacher. For about the past ten years she’s also been the sole owner of Supermud. But that was one role she’d never planned.
Maxine Krasnow opened Supermud Studio in 1978 on Broadway and 114th Street, then moved the studio a couple of times within the neighborhood (it opened in its current location in 1997). After running the studio for many years, however, Maxine relocated to Tucson, AZ to help relieve her son of his bad asthma and offered to sell the studio to her students. Iva was one of a group of five who initially bought and ran Supermud. In the ensuing years, four of them moved on to other things and Iva became the sole owner. At the time she was still a full-time special ed teacher, dancing three times a week, and teaching at Supermud. Though she’d never run a business, deciding to keep the studio open wasn’t difficult because she had a lot of help from others and never felt alone.
Iva shared two stories that underscore the many reasons people come to Supermud. There's been at least one marriage proposal: before a private lesson,
a man asked Iva to wedge a ring box into the clay his girlfriend would be working with (she said "yes", by the way). In another instance, a father wanted to spend more time with his 15-year-old daughter and so attended a whole term of classes with her. He quickly discovered that the conversations among the students during class stimulated further conversations between father and daughter and brought them closer at an important time in both their lives.
The warmth of the fired kiln filling the studio. The feel of clay on your hands and the smell of it in your nostrils. The multitude of varied work lining the shelves.
The community. As the light outside the studio darkened in the late afternoon,
Iva proclaimed, "I think life is good!".