Beauty of God's creations inspires artist




There is nothing on this earth that doesn't have a spirit.

It's an ancient American Indian belief that local artist Ron Smith said he tries to convey in his American Southwest-inspired artwork.

"I began doing this because I needed what I call sacred space," Smith, a self-taught artist whose work is now on display at Garden City Community College's Mercer Gallery, said. "Appreciating the beauty of God's creations is a part of my life."

In the inaugural show of the gallery's 2012-13 season, the images of leaping buffaloes, birds in flight, and dancing deities come alive through the luminous colors of seawater shells and vibrant turquoise stones.

Smith, who has worked in law enforcement for most of his life, began working on his wall-hangings about four years ago, after having carried with him the precious materials used in his pieces for many decades.

More than 40 years ago, Smith said, he purchased bagfuls of the paua abalone shells — seawater shells that emit a rainbow of colors against the light — with the "dream of someday turning them into breathtaking pieces of art," he said.

The artist, who works as a security officer at the college, said he hopes he has succeeded in doing just that.

After raising a family, and now with adult children, Smith said he was finally able to sit down and work with the beautiful shells that have been in his possession so long. He's never experimented with art or mixed media prior.

"As we moved, I kept moving them. But I knew sometime, someday, I would be making something beautiful," he said.

Smith's colorful wall hangings feature not only swimming turtles, climbing geckos and holy crosses, but also a few dancing Kokopelli, a god of fertility and harvest in many southwestern American Indian communities.

Like the Kokopelli and birds with wings in flight, his buffalo, too, is "in motion," he said.

"They have to be on the run for strength and power," the artist explained.

The naturally-formed sea shells with their dissimilar edges have been carefully arranged on each animal or art form, affixed so they entirely cover the wood cuttings behind each piece,

Smith described his arrangement of the shells on each art piece as like putting together the pieces of a "jigsaw puzzle."

In addition to the shells, turquoise stones accent each art piece, either outlining each form or sometimes serving as the eye or tail of the animal.

Some of the bold greenish-blue stones also form what Smith calls "heart lines" of each figure, where the turquoise pieces are carefully arranged in a meandering line across the chest or heart of each creature.

"They're for strength and protection," Smith said.

Many of the hangings also feature rosettes made of glass beads, which Smith commissions from his friends in American Indian communities: a White Mountain Apache woman named Sandra, who lives in Arizona, and others from a Lakota Sioux woman near Tucson, the artist said.

The tightly-sewn, beaded elements are emblazoned close to the heart of many of Smith's pieces.

This is the first solo show for the burgeoning artist, though he previously has displayed some of his work at Garden City's annual Art in the Park, the Garden City Arts Gallery, and at venues in Santa Fe, N.M., he said.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments for the artist came at a time when Smith had some of his pieces displayed at a previous outdoor show, he said. The artist said he witnessed strong reactions to his work at the time by some of the onlookers, memories he still remembers today.

"(At that show), once in a while I'd have a Native American come in, and he'd either be looking at either one of the animals, or the Kokopelli, or the thunderbird. All of a sudden there would be a river of tears on their face," Smith said. "I didn't think it would be appropriate for me to ask them what was happening, so I asked a friend of mine. She told me it was the spirit of the animal that was talking to him. After I heard that, I got real humble — it just makes you real humble."

Nine art shows are scheduled, including Smith's collection, for the Mercer Gallery's 24th season. The director of the Mercer Gallery is Brian McCallum, a GCCC ceramics instructor.

"Images Inspired by the American Southwest"

The work of local artist Ron Smith is on display at the Mercer Gallery from now until Sept. 1.

A public reception will be held from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday. Many pieces are available for purchase.

The Mercer Gallery is located in the west wing of the Pauline Joyce Fine Arts building at Garden City Community College, 801 Campus Drive. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

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