Bob Smith — you know that name. You may not be sure from where or how many of them you actually know. Idledale boasts Robert Rainsford Smith, and I use his middle name to distinguish him, although surely his long and prolific career as a studio potter has done that already.
Bob’s elegant forms and accomplished techniques in glazing and firing can be seen locally at Evergreen Fine Art. His work has been exhibited nationally for decades, but the recent economic downturn led several galleries to close and sales at others to slow. This artist saw his consignment world crumbling, and that led him to consign himself to teaching.
Once there, a wonderful thing happened.
Smith has offered 30 years of workshops at the University of Denver, Arapahoe Community College, the Arvada Center, Westminster Recreation Center, the city of Lakewood facility, and the Art Students League. Some of the early workshops, he admits, were probably not fully thought out.
“The early classes were more like magic shows. You stand up in front of the group, make the incredible pot, large and flawless, and then fire it perfectly. Performance. Most of them can’t do that, and that’s the magic.”
What happens when Bob teaches classes now is that he develops a rapport with the students. He’s no longer on a pedestal, and it makes him a better communicator.
“You get to know the students, when to encourage, cajole or give a hug. It’s far more rewarding,” he says.
Too bad art isn’t thriving in the public schools.
“It’s been proven that art education always enhances knowledge of other areas,” says Smith. “Ceramics, and it’s only one example, could be the basis for a complete curriculum. Earth sciences, geology, chemistry, glaze calculations, social sciences, how cultures developed, and thermodynamics can all be learned through pottery.”
Additionally, schools must be diverse in their approaches to students. The capacity to learn is based on musical, physical, visual or other natural aptitudes. This is known as the theory of “multiple intelligences” (see www.edutopia.org).
Bob points out a way that works referring to the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Ghetto kids are saved by the violin. I’ll point out that they were also nurtured by a great teacher.
Bob thinks quite a bit about teaching clay and is dedicated to developing a pedagogy that matches his intense knowledge of the subject. He’s learned it’s not just the process of throwing on a potter’s wheel, but attuning with what your hands are doing. He certainly has his heart in it. Hands and heart.
Hannah B. Hayes is a former Both Sides Now debate columnist, small-business owner and peace activist. She has been a part of the Evergreen community for more than 35 years.