This is a tribute for my friend and colleague John Smith who passed away last week.
It was late autumn (northern hemisphere) 1984 and I was in Hawaii with my partner Linda for a week’s vacation before heading back to North Carolina where I worked as a designer-maker of sculptural furniture. On a whim, I called my home phone to see what business messages might have been left. After listening to this strangely accented voice asking whether or not I would like to come to Tasmania and lecture at the School of Art on a two year contract, I hung up, turned to Linda and said: “Where is Tasmania?”
Two weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of having arrived in Tasmania in February 1985.
The person with the “strangely accented” voice was British born John Smith. Considering the history (think 1776) between America and England, I am culturally inclined to not speak favourably of anything English; especially, the monarchy.
But without the slightest hesitancy or phoney smile, I can unreservedly say that John Smith, and John Smith alone, gave me the golden ring that would spell out the deeper meaning and purpose of my adult life.
Yes, I, myself, had to grab that gold ring when proffered, but the hand that extended it has to be acknowledged. The hand that shook my hand at the airport upon my arrival thirty years ago has to be acknowledged and that acknowledgement has to be both heartfelt and full of gratitude. Which it is.
Without a doubt, the shaping of my adult life, the deep ecological perspective of my art work, the eco-feminist nature of my home Windgrove, and, the fulsomeness of my creative life could only have happened by John placing that original phone call. For this I will be forever in debt to John’s physical existence on this earth.
And herein lies the strength and legacy of John Smith. Without his determined vision to create a world class design-in-wood department at the School of Art, there would hardly be a ripple of designer-makers in Tasmania making their living out of their craft. Just like Claudio Alcorso had the vision to create a vibrant wine industry in Tasmania — against the “perceived wisdom” of the day — John Smith stuck to his belief that Tasmania could educate and foster the talents of many people.
Like all artists and people of vision, John had his critics. And, at times, this would include me. But underlining every engagement with John, whether in agreement or disagreement, the look in his eyes spoke of a steely determination to achieve his dream. This, surely, must be admired.
Today, just as there are over 250 vineyards springing up across all of Tasmania, designer-makers are also springing up across this small state. In both cases, my guess is that most people will not know who laid the foundation stones for their respective careers to survive and flourish. They should, though, know this history.
I’m not suggesting that we build a statue of John in front of the School of Art. However, a simple plaque carved in huon pine and then cast in white fibreglass polished to the highest shine — this, now, would be symbolic and appropriate.
….The above photo of John was from the 1980’s when I arrived in Tasmania.