SUPERMUD MEMBER PROFILES
Maxine Krasnow - Founder
This year marks Supermud Pottery’s 40th anniversary, so there seemed no better time for Scottie Twine to talk to its founder, Maxine Krasnow, to learn how it all began and about her own journey with pottery.
First a little background: Many years ago, living on the Upper West and working on her Masters in English, Maxine joined a few friends for pottery classes taught by Greg Wyatt at Riverside Church; it was, she said, “just a way to get out of the house.” After a stint as a proofreader for a publishing company, she taught 6thgraders in the Bronx. It was a very hard year that ended with her being laid off as part of the City’s broader budget cuts – in retrospect, perhaps a fortunate turn of events.
Maxine loved clay and making pottery, and she recognized she would be happier doing what she loved. Until then she’d focused on hand building but believed that if she was going to be a serious potter she’d have to know how to throw on the wheel. So, she proceeded to teach herself. At first, she didn’t like it at all: “I’d throw in the morning and then reward myself by hand building,” said Maxine. But after six months it was the only technique she wanted to use.
She’d been using space in a friend’s apartment for her pottery but, when her friend had to give up the lease, Maxine needed a place to work. Maxine was living at 111thStreet and Broadway. “I asked my landlord if I could put a kiln in the apartment and he said ‘no’. My husband at the time had a friend who had a friend who had a chess club, two rooms on the 2nd floor at Broadway between 111th and 112th Streets. And I asked him if I could have the pottery there, and he had another friend, an electrician, who did the wiring for the kiln.” Thus was born Supermud Pottery (the name was inspired by a similarly named conference on clay)!
At some point the chess club could no longer afford the rent, and so Maxine introduced herself to that landlord. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you…,” she said. “And he rented me one big room on the 2nd floor for $160 a month.” There was a very small gallery in the front and promotional efforts consisted of fliers hung up around the neighborhood, and a table on the ground floor with a pot bolted to it and signage. “It worked! People came up and took classes and bought pots,” Maxine said. “I was terrified when I set up Supermud. I was a shy person, but my kind of brave is that I do things despite being afraid. And I kept it going by default.”
When, after eight years, the landlord wanted to evict Supermud, Maxine raised money from the community, hired a lawyer and fought the eviction – which gained her one more year. Finally, unable to find an affordable place in the neighborhood, Maxine negotiated with the landlord of 212 West 105th Street where she lived and got a ten-year lease on the basement. To enhance gallery sales, Maxine rented the window of an empty local storefront, displayed pots, and advertised Supermud.
Maxine enjoyed working at home, especially after her son was born in 1990. Her students remained loyal and she hired a part-time studio manager. But around the time her basement lease ended, Maxine’s son developed serious asthma and she quickly realized she’d have to relocate to Arizona for his health. She’d been the sole proprietor of Supermud for 18 years.
The neighborhood could have lost Supermud during this difficult transition period, but Maxine was determined to keep it going despite her relocation to Arizona. Although two men offered to buy the studio and expand it as a business, Maxine opted to sell Supermud to a group of her students (including current owner, Iva Lee Smith) because they were committed to running it in the spirit in which it was originally intended. In 1997, the group rented space for what has since been Supermud’s home on the 2nd floor at 2744 Broadway. Iva, of course, eventually became Supermud’s sole owner, and Maxine credits her with transforming the studio into a thriving business and maintaining it as an important community for potters.
Potter and Teacher:
Maxine says of her love of clay: “It was an instant thing. After teaching pottery for 40 years, I’ve observed that people who become artists really fall in love with the material. Clay became my path from the beginning. I think all art work is healing, but clay is particularly so.” Early on she was influenced by Japanese and Asian pottery, but “the two people who really made me want to become a potter were Ragnor Naess and Peter Callas.” Maxine has always loved pots she describes as “very loose.” “Pots do reflect the person who makes them. My own work is not loose, but the longer I work the looser my pots are becoming.” A regular practitioner of tai chi, Maxine says that what she gets from that discipline is also reflected in her pots.
Once she settled with her son in Arizona, Maxine took part-time jobs to make a living; she taught in a daycare, loaded kilns in a pottery factory, and was a nanny. But she always continued to teach pottery: “From the beginning, I had a school in every place I rented.” Ultimately, Maxine established the Tucson Clay Coop (www.tucsonclaycoop.com) and is very proud of all they provide the potting community. “I can’t think of anything we don’t have – classes in wheel hand building, sculpture, mosaics, mask-making. We have a summer camp for kids, family pottery, and a gallery. There are wood and gas kilns, a slab roller, an extruder.”
Maxine says her work has completely changed since she started Supermud and her earlier years in Tucson. “At Supermud I could do anything I wanted and display it at the gallery. Then to make a living in Tucson, I discovered people wanted a predictable and consistent line of pots, so I found a design that worked and did that for years.”
But a major change came when Maxine built a Bruce Bowers wood kiln out of an old electric kiln.* “I’d wanted to fire with wood for years. I’m so happy with this kiln. For the rest of my life I’m not going to run out of experiments in this kiln. It’s accessible and small so I can fill it and fire it alone. It’s affordable and not expensive to fire. I’m firing this kiln with 100 running feet of 1” x 2” wood lathing that’s been soaked for five days in soda ash and baking soda. The kiln cannot make ugly pots! It’s the first time I’ve loved my own pots.” Then she confessed that her greatest challenge as a potter is self-judgment!
Teaching pottery remains the most gratifying work. “I like that you can change somebody’s entire life and you don’t even know it.” Comparing doing pottery with tai chi, Maxine said that “both are internal processes and solitary journeys, but you can’t learn either without a good teacher.” Maxine continued: “I bring my whole spiritual practice into my pottery classes now.” An old friend once told Maxine she’s her best when she’s in the pottery. “I didn’t know what she meant, but I do think it’s the place I shine, not in the ego sense, but I think something else comes through.”