One of a Kind: Artwork From the Collection of Stephanie Smither

Stephanie Smither is an avid and perspicacious collector of folk art; this is made crystal clear in a varied and engrossing exhibition of some of the works from her collection at Art League Houston.

There are art pieces from more than 30 artists, many self-taught, some internationally recognized, some emerging, and some pieces from unidentified artists, which Smither has obtained from sources where the artist is unknown.

One of these is a sculpture made entirely from wire, seemingly a tribute to a wedding bower. The central focus is on a driver controlling two donkeys, which are pulling a carriage. On either side are two large heart-shaped holders of photographs, one of a man and one of a woman, presumably the betrothed couple. There is a central swan, and the sculpture, primarily green, is also filled with colorful elements. It sings of love and devotion, and its intricate design and detail testify to the artistry of the unknown sculptor who created it.

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Some folk art from the collection of Stephanie Smither
Some folk art from the collection of Stephanie Smither
Photo by Logan Beck

This is a well-designed exhibition, with sculptures on pedestals. or on wall-hung supports, and the two-dimensional art on the walls is well-organized. It is a large exhibition, yet it avoids the look of over-crowding.

Clarence and Grace Woolsey were an American couple in Iowa whose medium was - are you sitting down? - bottle caps. They passed away in 1987 and 1992, respectively, but left behind more than 200 sculptures created or covered completely in bottle caps. Surprisingly, the effect is not metallic, but provides rather the look of fabric - the caps nestle one into another, with the edges exposed. An untitled bottle-cap work is shown, which has the appearance of a cross between a scarecrow and a gingerbread man - droll, indeed.

Smither commissioned Roy Ferdinand Jr. to paint a portrait of Bert Hemphill, one of the founders of the Folk Art Museum in New York City, and Ferdinand portrayed a haunting, enigmatic figure, yet with commanding reality, of a man at a bookcase. A figure holds the books in place, the stem of a lamp is a man, a large robot is at the right bottom of the painting, and a turtle is climbing the wall. Though filled with detail, presumably folk art from Hemphill's collection, the total effect is not cluttered - each item is given its due. Howard K. Finster, a Baptist reverend, worked in wood, and numbered each of his works, as he believed he had a mission from God to complete 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel. Shown here are a man and woman embracing, with a child watching; it is done with sweetness and warmth on highly polished wood.

Another sculpture is by an unknown artist as well, and it is striking indeed - it is made entirely of toilet paper. It is a finely-detailed creation of a two-master, elegant, under full sail and is all-white except for a few colorations on its side. The cabin is below deck, but is open to the view, and it is finely done, including a table and chairs. There are no humans; it might be the ghost ship of The Flying Dutchman, destined never to reach land.

Upcoming Events

Art League Houston has named Smither the 2014 Texas Patron of the Year, with the award to be presented at the annual gala, on Friday, October 17 at the Hotel ZaZa. Ticket and table purchase information are available by contacting Jill Nepomnick at 713-523-9530. A portion of the proceeds will go toward Smither Park, an outdoor park of folk art created in remembrance of her late husband John H. Smither. Stephanie Smither says "It embodies much that (my husband) cherished: family, fun and creative endeavors, while being mindful of our responsibilities as humans. Where art flourishes, culture flourishes."

One of a Kind: Artwork from the Collection of Stephanie Smither continues through November 1, Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, open Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 713-523-9530, artleaguehouston.org.


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