It isn’t every John Smith who has his own bar stool at Olde Yorke Fish and Chips on Laird Dr. But this isn’t just any John Smith.
This is John H. Smith who, at 84, will probably be the oldest participant in the Bayview Art Tour 2013 in October.
He is the John H. Smith who culminated a long history of art successes in 1981 by founding The Smithy, on Laird, a school and gallery as well as his private studio.
He ran classes every day, plus several in the evenings. But that didn’t stop him from producing an enormous volume of his own work.
“In those days I would get up at around 3 a.m. so I could paint for a few hours before class started.
“Sometimes I would just drive around Leaside and downtown Toronto, pause when I saw a scene, put the paper or even a canvas on my steering wheel and start painting. Other days I would drive up the DVP/404 and just stop on a country lane and capture a picture or two or three.”
In summers he would travel throughout Northern Ontario and the Maritimes, enjoying stints as art director at many lodges and resorts.
He was also painting along the way and especially in the Maritimes would sell his pieces to banks and private businesses.
“There were years I was living like the true struggling artist… selling paintings to buy gas and more canvas to paint on.”
Earlier in his life after immigrating from England with a new wife in 1952, he had a tough time till he got into the advertising industry in graphic design, advertising sales and sales promotion.
“I was a Mad Man before any-one ever heard of that term,” he says.
His family grew to have four daughters and he became active in education. He designed an “adventure playground” for one school that became a model for many others, and he initiated Art Week, an artist in the school program that continues to this day.
In the late 1970s he started branching out and founded The Great Canadian Craft Company, designing and selling craft kits for major department and craft stores. The company was later sold to Lewiscraft, where he continued to work to design craft school courses.
He participated in many local art guilds in and around Leaside, including the Don Valley Art Club, the Scarborough Guild of Arts, the Markham Guild, and the Niagara Art Association.
Then he founded The Smithy and brought a different approach to being a teacher:
“My goal was, and still is, to provide the space and, hopefully, the inspiration for each student to develop their talent at their own pace. I see myself more as a coach than a teacher, more as a mentor than an instructor.”
Over the years, The Smithy has operated out of several different locations along Laird, but the students just follow him. Most of them today have been with him for over 20 years, even though he now teaches just one day a week, spending much of the rest of the time sipping lattes.
But he is still painting and showing his work at many galleries in Toronto, including Leaside’s own Studio 51 Design and Art Gallery on Laird.
A few years ago he had a heart attack and had bypass surgery. When the folks at Olde Yorke noticed his absence they sent flowers to the hospital.
“It was one of those reminders that Leaside is still very much like a small town,” he says.
John H. Smith has participated in the Bayview Art Tour for over 10 years and, despite some health challenges, is not about to miss the 13th annual tour. He will be displaying some of his work Oct. 5-6 at 40 Southvale Dr.
Betsy Smith, a Leaside resident, is John H. Smith’s daughter.