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Rising Stars: Meet Andrew ‘Augusta’ Smith of Uptown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew ‘Augusta’ Smith.

Hi Andrew ‘Augusta’, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.

I am and artist and designer living in and working Phoenix, focused on pushing myself to work in as many mediums as possible.

I started working on a blacksmithing forge when I was 12, back in South Carolina where I am from. I found a few tools and the small anvil of my great grandfather from his time as blacksmith on the railroad, and that sparked my first interest in making and selling functional items. I’ve always been interested in tactile activities, and naturally progressed into making money off of things that I built or made. When I entered high-school, I became obsessed with ceramics. My brother, 4 years older, was a talented ceramic artist in high-school, and I always wanted to surpass his level. I organized classes and extracurriculars around getting into the studio, working 4-6 hours a day in the studio almost every day, making friends with the janitors to sneak in on weekends, making hundreds of pieces a week and selling them at every pop-up art sale I could manage to get into.

Eventually I began working at a local production pottery, Tire City Potters in Augusta, GA, right across the river from my hometown. Pretty much everyone in my hometown, other than my first ceramics professor and Shishir, the owner of Tire City, told me that art could never be a career. I was told I had to be a professional, an engineer, a lawyer, a businessman, etc. So that’s the path I tried to follow. I toured schools looking for biomedical engineering programs, with ceramics as an afterthought.

When I got to ASU, Biomedical Engineering was widely considered to be the hardest path to take, and the first semester I was neck deep in work, losing my mind. With too many credits to include ceramics courses, I started taking open studios at Mesa Arts Center to maintain my sanity. I realized I had to be involved in ceramics to survive this brutal course-load, so the next semester I enrolled in a class with Sam Chung on top of my engineering, and I began to regain a sense that I could make it through.

The end of my sophomore year Sam convinced me to add Ceramics as a second major, which would mean 20 to 24 credit hours a semester and summer classes, but it also meant a whole fifth year of just art, no engineering classes. Ceramics knowledge began to bleed into my engineering, and engineering began to bleed into my ceramics. This gave me a creative edge over other engineers, and an analytical edge over other ceramic artists, and both bodies of work improved. After 3 years of double course loads and working as both a production potter and an engineering intern during the summers, it came time for my final year, with no engineering classes and the whole arts department at my disposal. I did everything I could; foundry work, jewelry, sculpture, pottery, painting, film photography, leatherwork, drawing, anything I could do to translate the years of ideas I had built up into physical objects. During this time, I started HANDSEYESMIND with by good friend Kamden Storm, and every day I would come home and take what I had learned to our garage workshop and work it into the company vision, building products that would normally be way out of the scope of possibilities with what we had in the garage alone.

At the end of my senior year, COVID began, pushing me off campus to work. Artist Virgil Ortiz, whom I had collaborated with the year before, and I took this opportunity to collaborate under the umbrella of my Honors College Thesis, at the Reitz Ranch in Cottonwood Arizona. Here we built a massive body of work together, sharing his traditional knowledge and heritage of ceramics with me, in return for my knowledge of contemporary ceramics. Near the end of this time, I graduated ASU, and the offer came in from my engineering firm for a full time position, making 6 figures, back in Charleston. Without hesitation, I turned them down, and opted to continue working with Virgil at the ranch. It was then that I met Heidi Kreitchet, a master wood fire ceramic artist and former assistant of Don Reitz, who offered me a 6 month residency at the American Museum of Ceramic Arts, in Pomona, CA, under the Wingate Grant.

After 8 months of residencies, even in quarantine conditions, I realized that the most important part of what I wanted to build for myself out here, in a place where I have no inherited connections, was a community. I moved back to Phoenix last December, into the casita behind Kam’s house, to build just that. This whole last year has been dedicated to outfitting the backyard studio into the most multifaceted makers mecca that we could manage, investing every cent and spare minute I have into a space where we can create without boundaries. I have collaborated with almost a dozen different artists and business, from Tennessee to Phoenix and out to Los Angeles, in the last ten months alone, and have begun to establish my personal ceramics and the HANDSEYESMIND studio as an integral part of the up and coming arts scene in Phoenix. That is why I adopted my college nickname, Augusta, as my artist working pen name, to show the people in my hometown and in Augusta that you can redefine what you are told is possible.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?

Without a doubt, I am very privileged to be a white male in America with a loving and supportive family behind me the entire way. I have been through struggles along the way to where I am now, and have been completely dedicated pushing through whatever obstacles appeared on my way to wherever I am headed. I’ve been plagued by numerous injuries that stalled my progress, and the constant flow of self doubt often associated with artists early in their career.

Keeping up with my mental health during the first two years of engineering school was definitely the most difficult time for me, because I was completely unbalanced without having the creative release to counter the intense drone engineering lab work. Since I’ve graduated, I have found myself in the same situation as many other creatives during COVID. Shows, workshops and sales were canceled across the board for months, and online sales dwindled to near zero as the financial impact of COVID affected everyone from the makers to the patrons. I find myself now working three jobs too keep up with rent and my studio practice. But, through that work has come a connection with the growing arts community in Phoenix, which sustains my hopes of making art my longtime career.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?

Right now, I work in several different mediums. I co-design jewelry, soft goods, homewares and other objects for HANDSEYESMIND with Kamden Storm.

Personally, I work in ceramics on many different levels. I specialize in soda fired porcelain vessels, but also work making table wares and sculpture in various styles. I’m known for collaborating in the ceramics space with artists like Virgil Ortiz, Heidi Kreitchet, Gino Belasson and Grayson Fair. I work with clients like Bacanora Phoenix and The Pottery LA to design ceramics collections that fit their needs and style, while still maintaining my own artistic voice.

On the other end of the spectrum, I work as a contract biomedical engineer researching and designing for the Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences, and other free lance clients looking to invent or prototype a concept.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?

Hyperactive would probably be the best way to describe me growing up. I was riddled with untreated ADHD, so I was constantly bouncing between interests, hyper fixated on whatever was right in front of me at the moment. I would take things apart just to put them back together, build things without instructions because I didn’t have the patience. I would take the scraps from construction projects and build things just to build them. I was passionate about being passionate, obsessed with working on something at all times to keep my hands busy.

Pricing:

  • $70/hr for engineering services
  • $70/hr for ceramic design/consultation services

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Kamden Storm

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