VIVI Ginsberg Smith
Sculpture and Pottery
After visiting with VIVI Ginsberg Smith in her studio located in her Harvard home dating from 1912, you find that the potter is as unique and colorful as her beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. VIVI grew up in a family of skilled handcrafters. Her German grandmother and mother taught her at a young age all things fiber – sewing, knitting and embroidery. Her mother also paints and her father is a glass blower. VIVI originally went to school to be a teacher but then decided to open a business specializing in professional quilting which then led her to opening an art gallery in Long Grove dedicated to fiber art. After closing the gallery, she decided she needed to follow a new path and went back to school.
Enrolled at MCC in Anthropology and Fine Arts, VIVI found herself having to take pottery as an elective and ironically she hated it! Her teacher Susan Blue Galloway, who is the owner of Blue Eagle Pottery, was a big influence on VIVI and helped her to foster a love for pottery. Something she found to be completely frustrating at first, finally grabbed her and she found she loved the challenge of creating pottery. She treats each project as an experiment and thrives in the “what will happen” aspect of trying different methods and techniques. She has been doing pottery for 15 years now and the process continues to drive her passion. She gets to teach, she gets to produce art and she is thankful every day that she gets to do something she loves.
VIVI started with the Woodstock Farmers Market sort of by accident when she helped Woodstock High School art instructor Herb Kruse with his Empty Bowls project. Market Manager Keith Johnson approached her and asked if she would be interested in participating in the market’s indoor winter market at the McHenry County Fairgrounds. She agreed and is now doing her second winter market after completing a successful summer market on the historic Woodstock Square. VIVI also sells her pottery pieces through her Etsy shop and takes special orders from customers. She is trained as a functional potter and creates utilitarian pieces to sell but she identifies herself as a sculptor and hopes to one day be able to present more sculpture pieces at the market.
Along with her biggest supporter, husband Philipe, VIVI has created a wonderful work space in their home where she can create her own art as well as teach students. Every week students come to learn the process of making pottery. VIVI teaches to her students’ passions and lets them know that her studio is a place for them to tap into their creative side. Her well organized studio includes several pottery wheels, shelves of glazes and tools, storage areas for drying pieces and her kiln. The five red doors in the studio pop against the white bricks adding to the character and charm of her historic home.
The pottery process starts with determining the function of the piece as well as the size and shape needed for that purpose. VIVI uses a stoneware clay for her functional pieces which is a very versatile, easy to throw clay that allows for finished pieces to be able to go into a dishwasher and handle heat and weight. After wedging the clay, which is a technique used to remove air bubbles, the clay is placed on the potter’s wheel where it is shaped by hand. The piece is set out on plaster beds to help with the drying process. When the piece is at the “leather-hard” stage, a potter can make carvings and any alterations to their piece.
Once a piece has completely dried, it is called greenware and is at its most delicate state. At this point the piece goes through a bisque fire which is the first firing done at a lower temperature to make the pots less fragile for glazing. VIVI has found success with a couple of different glaze brands and she always makes sure to use non-toxic glazes for her functional pieces. She loves to experiment with different glazes and glazing techniques and this is where her love of the process comes into play. The above pictures show one of the techniques VIVI uses called mocha diffusion. In the first picture the pieces are pink and green and drying for a bisque fire. After glazing, the pieces are put into the kiln again for a final firing at a higher heat. The finished salt cellar looks very different from how it started!
Artist, teacher, student, scientific thinker, world traveler, mother, grandmother, foodie, lover of community – just some of the words that describe local potter and artist VIVI Ginsberg Smith. And the thing that she loves the most about pottery – that it’s from the earth; the clay body and the elements that make the glaze. In VIVI’s words, “The clay has its own life form and you don’t always know what you’re going to get, there are no mistakes in clay; it’s all beautiful, it’s from the earth.” You can find VIVI at the market all winter where she will be doing wheel demonstrations as well as selling her beautiful, handmade pottery.