Louis Snyder has been involved in the arts in Tennessee for more than 60 years. He had a hand in forming the Tennessee Arts Commission, creating the Tennessee Craft (formerly the Tennessee Society of Craft Artists), raising funds to build the Jo L. Evans Appalachian Craft Center, and designing the famous Tennessee State University (MTSU) Art Barn. He has thrown pottery for every president starting with Richard Nixon. He has trained a large number of potters and potters since 1972 when he opened Studio S in Murfreesboro.
“Studio S was built from an old barn with metal siding,” Snyder explained, whose sons went on to hand over to Jupiter one of the large pieces of sculpture that had been in Studio S’s front window for years. . “The barn was used for a lot of things, like communal storage. There were eight or nine different businesses connected to the space — an electrical shop, a real estate company, a sign shop, a paving company stocked here. We had to chase the pigeons that perched into the space.”
He slowly built the studio by hand between 1967 and 1972 “one painting at a time.” He got help from friends and students, such as Maurice Parker, who helped him design the pool and the round door frames. The ceiling in the gallery is the original thatched loft, made entirely of reused barn wood. The stained glass artist who had a studio on the third floor made the large lamps located in the front of the building.
Originally from West Virginia, he attended Glenville State College where he majored in education, history, and political science. It was only after he took an art lesson related to history that he discovered his love for art. He ended up taking every art course they offered. His advisor suggested he go to Ohio to study clay and sculpture. He came to MTSU in 1962 to start the 3D art program.
While college opened him up to his talents, they developed long before he even went to school. His grandfather had a parking garage and there were always bits of scrap metal around that Snyder would love to turn into a sculpture. More than 60 years later, with the Terracotta Studio closed, he decided to return to sculpting.
“Over the course of 50 years, we have given four ten-week ceramics lessons,” Snyder said. “I built my own kilns, made my own clay, and developed over 500 new glazes.”
Because of his skills, in the late 1960s he was asked by the governor to work with other artists and craftsmen from across the state to create a program to promote arts in all its forms, educating Tennessee residents on how to inspire art, connect people, and enhance our daily lives. From this effort, the Tennessee Arts Commission was formed.
According to the Tennessee Arts Commission website, “In 1970 Snyder was invited to participate in the International Ceramics Symposium which was being held in Pechen, Czechoslovakia. The mission of the International Ceramics Symposium was to help develop a worldwide network in support of ceramic art by bringing in leading ceramic artists from all over the world. around the world to exchange ideas for a month and create innovative ceramics.”
Czechoslovakia was not the country it is today. It suffered under the authoritarian Soviet rule. The city was dark, gloomy, and people were walking with their heads down, minding their own business. He was one of the first Americans to visit the country after World War II. The juxtaposition between his oppressive surroundings and the joy of creation he found in the symposium did not escape him. “Seeing people holding onto the same mud and seeing what resulted from it was unbelievable.” The International Symposium on Ceramics inspired Snyder to start something similar in Tennessee, which he did three times beginning in 1972.
Growing aware of his skills, he was approached by the National Endowment for the Arts to present him as a gift to President Richard Nixon. He also made ceramic dinnerware for Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr.; ceremonial tray for Ronald Reagan; And an angel Christmas tree ornament for Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also made parts for companies like Nissan, Pillsbury and Bridgestone.
He was instrumental in developing and financing the Smithville Appalachian Craft Center located in Center Hill Lake in the early 1970s. It came from his understanding that artists must not only develop their skills as creators, but also understand how to run a business and market themselves.
He said, “You can be the best artist in the world, but if no one knows about you, your talent will be moot.”
Snyder has also taken many apprentices to train over the years alongside Charles Counts. It has been a two-year commitment and has led to the development of many artisan artists in the country.
His works can be found in collections throughout the county, in both museums and personal collections. He received many honors and awards.
While the closing of Studio S is the end of an era for those who make it into clay, it’s not the end of Snyders’ work.
“I kept an electric oven,” he said. “And I’m experimenting with a Raku fire pit. I love the color. I’ve tried all kinds of materials in the pits, old medicines, cat food, dog food. Anything that would burn but not pollute the environment. Once I put a small pot in a brush pile with some papers And he burned it. He won prizes.”
While Snyder may have sold his company and retired, he intends to continue creating.