Charlotte Smith- Sculpter and Ceramic Artist
Walking in from the street into Charlotte Smith’s studio the urban landscape quickly fades away as you cross through the threshold of Fair Street Studios. You are transported into a serene space which hosts a collection of work from the resident artists. Beautifully handcrafted furniture, photography, and ceramics all adorn the common area. Contributing to a feeling of unity and cohesion. In that moment we desperately wished we had the talent to land a spot amongst these creatives. An energy drifts through the air as you recognize scents of wood from the workshop next door and freshly painted walls from a recent renovation. Possibility is the scent most permeating throughout the space.
Entering Charlotte’s personal studio you suddenly discover the amount of hours spent laboring here. We calculate the time by counting the shelves of porcelain vessels and the tables with entire of surface areas taken over by cups and plates. Things are definitely happening in this room. At the end of the studio you find a manual garage door that once Charlotte opens, floods the room with natural light. Taking in the floor to ceiling view of the outdoors, we breathe in a breath of fresh air.
We take a seat with Charlotte on the patio where we can both enjoy the cooler weather and be amongst her collection of work. Scanning the room we are eager to learn about Charlotte’s ritual inside of her studio and wonder what her typical day looks like .
“I usually always have 20 cups that I have to do especially now that it’s approaching the Holiday Season. First I usually sit down, have some tea, and write in my planner exactly what I want to accomplish for the day. Then I start working for the day. It’s pretty straight forward what I have to do- throw cups, decorate cups, and fire cups. One cup from start to finish takes about two weeks. I could work anywhere from four hours to fifteen hours in a day. I’m definitely more tired when I leave here, but its fulfilling. Its not like working at some bullshit job and when you leave you’re tired and have to drive an hour home. I’m just as exhausted at the end of the day just like any job, but I feel fulfilled.”
Charlotte is most widely known for her porcelain cups. Her stock list includes local shops such as Young Blood Boutique, Octane Coffee (Westside), and the High Museum’s gift shop. Charlotte’s background also includes sculpting. She has often said that she enjoys creating cups as a smaller canvas in which she is able to play with design. We begin to discuss how she creatively branches out and what other ceramic canvases she is devising.
“I’ve started throwing larger vessels which you can around the studio. I’m not happy with them yet. I don’t feel like they are at the point where my cups are so I don’t want to sell them. The plates have been something new. It’s a flat surface that I can work with. Some of the designs for the cups have been able to transfer to the plates. Its funny the things I start making are because someone has asked for them. @EatMeSpeakMe asked me for plates for their restaurant. I’ve been wanting to do plates, but that really pushed me to create them. I’ve worked with other people for things like light fixtures…things like that allow me to step away from the cups for a minute. My collaborations have pushed me to do things I want to do or haven’t yet tried. I think at some point I will have time to sculpt. I’d like to start to taking a class to get myself out of this environment where I can be more loose. What I’m doing now is very structured, everything has to be done in a certain time and in a specific routine. Whereas sculpture is different than that. I miss the unpredictability.”
Charlotte is down to earth, but more attractive than that is her calm demeanor. She provides a gentle gravitational pull into her stillness. Her practical approach to her work is paired with creative talent that combined together produces pieces of art. Despite her cups and plates offering a functional purpose, they stand on their own as individual prizes to be proudly displayed. The contrasts in color, minimalistic design, and smooth surfaces give her work a refined aesthetic. One gets the impression that while Charlotte acknowledges the care and effort she places into each piece, that she isn’t fully aware of the talent she exhibits in her work. Another quality we admire from the artist.
Charlotte begins to describes her childhood growing up in Mississippi in a family of craftsman. Her father building houses and her mother sowing, a skill which was passed down from her grandmother who worked in a blue jean factory. With few distractions as a child, Charlotte found ample time to draw and exert a creativity unique from that of her family. Her parents out of practicality took to building and making needed objects whereas Charlotte was more naturally inclined to create from freedom of imagination.
For many Mississippi does not spark an idea that there is a wide community engaged in cultural or creative arts. We were amazed to learn that in fact the state provides funding for a public school, Mississippi School of the Arts, which fosters and develops talent from students across the state. The application process is rigorous and involves maintaining a high GPA, a portfolio submission and on site interview. Charlotte’s own application submission was by sheer chance. It was the year of Katrina and schools were behind sending out application packets. Charlotte’s art teacher received the information for the schools program and encouraged her to apply.
“For Mississippi to have a place like that, which I think was a sanctuary for most of the kids that were there, was a completely different experience to a normal high school. Everyone had their friends groups, but there were no clicks. The halloween dance party was the best time of the year! Everyone dressed up and it was fun. That was the first place where I thought maybe art could be a practical living. I got to be around other people who were in the same boat as me. They had been going to their high schools and probably hated it. I assumed we were all of the weird people that were all across other high schools and got put into one place. I would have missed out if I hadn’t gone there. Studying at that high school and then going to college for art seemed like the logical step for me.”
Atlanta means many things for different people. Some have an inherent love for the city having grown up here. Others intentionally relocate themselves into the area. For a separate group Atlanta can also appear to be a hard unattractive shell. The exterior layer, a facade of your inner apprehensions. Ordinary and commonplace from the outside, but once you look further you will find its appeal. The pearl hidden inside so to speak. There is a thriving community of artists in which people support one another. Something that is rare and vastly contrasting from other large cities. For Charlotte relocating to Atlanta wasn’t the dream however she grew to appreciate the city’s creative momentum. While being temporarily unemployed and looking to meet new people, Charlotte enrolled in a pottery studio membership. She quickly found that the time and money she spent could be invested into purchasing her own pottery wheel. Thats when things began taking off for her. Friend Diane Riffel, Co-Owner of Octane Coffee, was one of Charlotte very first clients stocking her cups in Octane Coffee’s Westside shop. Diane, recognizing Charlotte’s talent encouraged her to participate in Root City market. It was Diane who introduced Charlotte to a friend who was head of the organization.
“I was super intimidated to sell the cups. I didn’t know if they were good enough. I had taken ceramics in college, but I had never….I was the worst ceramics student. If my teacher knew what I was doing now I’m sure he would be very surprised. I would have been the last person who was doing ceramics for a living. I should send him a cup and say sorry.”
Less than a year from her first appearance at Root City Market, Charlotte gained enough demand to launch her own business. When considering venturing out on your own, anyone would be riddled with stress. Contemplating finances and leaving a secure job (with an income) is a fearful decision for many. Again we are taken aback by Charlotte’s relaxed, but also sound perspective when it comes to taking that step.
"I’ve always thought if there was any hesitation in starting something different…you don’t really have anything to lose. Even if you quit your job, thats a big step, but it’s not like you can’t go back and get another job. For me it wasn’t much of a question because I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I’m not the type of person who is going to try the same things and expect a different result. I think if someone is thinking about doing it…they should just do it. If you’re thinking about moving to a different place, move to a different place. You can always move back. There is freedom in feeling lost. To feel lost isn’t always a bad thing. Whenever you’re lost you’re seeing everything new. You’re constantly looking and you’re constantly learning. Even if you were to take that moment and fail, you’ve learned something in that process because you looked at things from a different perspective.”
Opportunity continues to grow as Charlotte adds more products into the mix and looks to increase her current stock list. As the holidays approach she is feverishly working on stocking inventory. Charlotte will also be participating in the following holiday markets locally- Root City Market and The Dope Girls Zine at Mammal Gallery. Then The Porter Flea in Nashville, TN. Those living outside of the area shouldn’t fret as Charlotte plans to increase her online offering, making her pieces available to anyone with an internet connection.
Visit www.charlottesmithstudios.com to view and purchase work by Charlotte. You can also follow her on Instagram where you’ll be treated to many Instagram stories of trimming and glazing ceramics which we find incredibly satisfying to the eyes.
Words Rigby Wrights
Images Charlotte Smith