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New season for artists begins with a big void

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Emil Smith is pictured doing a blacksmith demonstration in August 2012 with his friend George Borelli. Smith hosted the event at his property on Route 63, just south of the Village of Medina.

A new season has begun with exhibits and demonstrations to highlight local painters, sculptors and others in the creative arts.

Emil Smith was a mainstay at these events in recent years, as both a supporter of the artists and an exhibitor of his metal sculptures. The art community has been mourning his loss since his death on April 15. Smith, 54, was driving a truck in Wyoming County when he was killed in an accident.

“All artists are united,” said Arthur Barnes, a painter and long-time friend of Smith’s. The two grew up in Shelby and knew each other since they were kids. “We’re kind of a brethren.”

Smith created this cross with a crown of thorns. It’s in his front yard on South Gravel Road.

Smith’s work was immense, heavy and tall and that made it difficult to set up in local galleries.

But some of his smaller sculptures – a pinecone candle holder, a cattail and roses – were exhibited and they were popular with the public, said Noelle Wiedemer, co-owner of Wide Angle Art Gallery on Main Street in Medina.

“There was a ton of interest in his rose,” Wiedemer said.

Some metal sculptors will engineer their work and have very polished pieces. Smith created on the spot.

“He used a very organic process and he sometimes he brute-forced pieces into place,” said Kim Keil, co-owner of the Wide Angle gallery. “He was learning new techniques.”

Some of his work – metal creations of large crosses, birds, lady bugs, swamp scenes and flowers – have been on display for about a decade in his front yard and across the street on Route 63.

Emil Smith created these 11-foot-high iron crosses as a memorial to his father, Garra Smith. They are pictured on the Smith Farm, on the east side of South Gravel Road.

Smith put the crosses up in 2003. They were intended to be temporary, but the community gave him such good feedback he decided to keep them up year-round.

The three crosses are a traditional cross (center), an Oync cross (left) and a Celtic cross.

Smith took up the blacksmith arts after taking a welding class. He wanted the welding skill so he could do more projects on the farm.

Smith took old metal pieces – sometimes rusted corrugated water pipes, CO2 cylinders, ice tongs, a ball hitch, and other scrap pieces – to create animals out of metal.

Wide Angle Art Gallery was trying to keep permission from village officials to have some of the larger pieces on display on Main Street, Keil and Wiedemer said.

Smith wasn’t just an artist. He was one of the biggest cheerleaders for other artists. He attended almost every artists’ reception. He was generous in praising their efforts.

“People that support the arts are hard to come by,” said Kim Martillotta Muscarella, owner of Marti’s on Main, an art gallery on North Main Street in Albion.

“Not only was Emil an art appreciator, he was an artist,” she said.

Smith was a regular at the First Friday art openings at Marti’s. After seeing that exhibit, he liked to go listen to live music at the former Elsewhere Café in Albion. He was also a regular at the Boiler 54, which featured live music in Medina.

Smith enjoyed opera, playing the blues harmonica and liked to quote Shakespeare, sometimes while wearing a kilt. He loved Celtic culture. He was one of the leading performers in the Highland Games, where competitors throw heavy stones, sheafs and large poles. Smith could outpower many of the competitors who were half his age.

But he was a “gentle giant” who loved nature, his family and the arts, his friends said.

“He was one of those characters who will be missed,” Barnes said. “He really liked people and he liked to talk to people. He was a good guy.”

The local artists are interested in pursuing one of Smith’s ideas. He talked to the galleries about an art trail that would run along the canal villages from Lockport to Brockport. He wanted to see the galleries on the trail work together for an art festival.