Cracked windows and a broken air conditioner couldn’t ruin Nan Smith’s first day on the job.
Inside an old army barrack, Smith taught her first ceramic sculptures class in August 1979.
It was far from the 26-year-old’s ideal place to teach but didn’t dampen her spirit. After all, she did turn down nine other teaching jobs just to be at UF.
Forty years after stepping into her first classroom at UF across from University Avenue, Smith, now 66, is marking the end of her tenure on Dec. 31 as a professor at the College of the Arts. Smith said she’ll be focusing on her home studio art.
“I’ve told my students to watch out for me because I’ve got a lot up my sleeve,” Smith said.
Within four years of her arrival on campus, Smith became a part of creating the curriculum for the UF ceramics program. She moved from a barrack to the ground level of Fine Arts Building C and revamped the facility’s amenities.
“I took the job because it allowed me the opportunity to build something,” Smith said. “I had this notion that a visually gifted artist or creative person could build a new curriculum for the university.”
Through the course of Smith’s career, she’s taught ceramic sculpture, graduate seminars and wheel and hand throwing. She said she lent a hand in building the only ranked program in the UF College of the Arts. The ceramic curriculum she said she helped build ranked in at both No. 14 and 15 by U.S. News & World Reports in the early 2000s.
She said she was also published 35 times and has won multiple teaching awards. This includes the doctoral dissertation advisor and mentorship award in 2016. Smith went on to be one of six to win the UF-wide award that year.
“Once I built the program and facility, I saw it grow into something really, really wonderful,” she said. “I wanted my students to get ahead, so I felt like I was training the next generation of students in the field of ceramics.”
Her love for art started when she took watercolor and oil painting classes with her neighbor as a child. As an undergraduate student at Temple University, Smith said she came in wanting to use her hands to paint, but when she took a wheel throwing and ceramics class, her focus shifted. Inspired by her class, Smith went on to teach ceramics after she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1974 and her master’s degree — also in fine arts — from Ohio State University in 1977. Before she was hired by UF, Smith worked as a visiting instructor at the University of Illinois for two years.
As a UF graduate student in 2011, Rob Kolhouse said he took a ceramics course with Smith. She’s an honest teacher and she cares a lot about her students, he said. It was Smith who inspired Kolhouse to become an adjunct art professor; he has since taught at universities from Virginia to Arizona.
Kolhouse has no doubts Smith will be successful in her studio work when she retires. He said she still has incredible amounts of energy to keep pursuing her passion even after 40 years as an educator.
“I’m hopeful that some point in my life I can be as impactful as Nan was to so many artists’ lives,” Kolhouse said.
This is not the end of an era for Smith. It’s only beginning of the second chapter of her career.