Member Stories

01

Craig Mitchell Smith - Glass Artist

Craig Mitchell Smith ~ Glass Artist
Photos by Chad Badgero
 
 “I’ve never been bored in my life.  I am by nature expansive, so I don’t understand what boredom is.”
 
Building a Dream
If Craig Mitchell Smith could use only one word to describe his current success, it would probably be “serendipitous.” A little over a year ago he thought his dream of being an artist might have to remain just that—a dream. “I was really, really struggling and on the verge of giving up,” says Craig. “I was thinking I was just going to go be a waiter in Portland, Oregon.”
 
Grants, Gardens and Glass
But in 2009, after applying for and receiving the first individual artist grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, his life changed dramatically. “I’m hugely indebted to the Art’s Council of Greater Lansing,” says Craig. With his grant award, Craig filled the Lansing Cooley Gardens with his glass sculptures for a one day exhibition, and it was a “startling” success. Craig had huge attendance at the event and sold more of his work that day than he had in the previous two years.
 
No Reservations
After the Cooley exhibit, Craig’s work became in high demand, and he began building quite a name for himself. Then he got a call from the Meridian Mall. It was July, 11, 2010, and Craig thought, “Maybe they want to buy something shiny for the mall.” He was pleasantly surprised. Instead, they offered him a magnificent, completely finished 4,800 sq. ft. space at a price he could afford. “It was such serendipity,” says Craig. “I had no reservations. I knew it was going to work.” The space offered Craig everything he needed. “It was just like it was meant to be. It had everything I could have dreamed of in a space.”
 
The Birth of a Sculpture
Now his gallery is a showplace for all of his work and the space where his inspiration and his creativity meld to make art. He has four kilns at the gallery, and they serve as his canvas. No matter what else he is working on, he always tries to keep one kiln open every day for things he wants to make.
 
Craig says music plays a big part in his inspiration. He will hear a song on the radio, get an inspiration, and go make a piece. “I’ll have a moment of inspiration, either visual or verbal,” says Craig. He also loves the physicality of what he does. “I will be at my work table and cut thousands of pieces of glass. I have to be physically active. I would never want to do anything where I have to sit down.” 
 
Willie Wonka
Raised to be a lawyer, Craig says he was always a creative kid, but there was no history of creativity in his family. Over the years, he’s used that creativity in lots of different ways, from professional gardener, to set designer, to actor, cook and more, but many of those titles have been winnowed out since he found glass and started down the path of sculpting. Now he says his business model can be compared to Willy Wonka. His studio is his factory, and like Willie, he very rarely leaves it. “It is the center of my life,” Craig says.
 
Story Telling
So what about motivation? Why does Craig make art?  “I feel a responsibility to do this because I can,” he says. “I realized, as soon as I found glass, that this was a voice for me. I can actually speak with the stuff. And it’s easier for me to communicate.” Most of his work is story driven, and Craig likes the idea of sharing those stories even when he’s not there. “If I can engage people in a conversation in which I am not present, I think that does a lot.”  
 
Glass and Beyond
Is glass the only medium that turns Craig on? Absolutely not, but no matter what other elements he tries, his love of nature will most likely play a part. “I want to call attention to the beauty that’s all around us that we’ve become oblivious to,” he says. Craig also believes in intention, perseverance, and keeping an open mind.  “If you know you are working from your best motives, you have an excellent foundation. You need to work and work and perfect your craft. I’m still learning glass. I learn new things every day.”
 
 
Fun Facts
He loves the music of Aimee Mann. He’s seen her in concert several times, and she is his musical artist of choice. One thing that continues to surprise Craig about what he does is the excitement he feels when opening the kiln. “Every day is like Christmas. I can’t wait to peek into the kiln and see how a piece has turned out.”