James Smith tells Huron's stories with new exhibit - Aug. 30, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Gemma James Smith’s marionettes are featured at this season’s final show at the Blyth Festival Art Gallery in a show called We’ve Been Here for So Long – the Huron County Show.
James Smith’s name is likely known to those familiar with the centre as she has worked on several Blyth Festival productions including Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo and The Pigeon King, both of which allowed her to work alongside her husband, Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt. James Smith worked on the costumes for the shows, and, in 2015, also worked on Fury.
“Guy Lombardo and The Pigeon King were my first official jobs with the Festival,” she said in an interview with The Citizen. “Fury was kind of an official/unofficial position.”
James Smith’s stepfather, Ronnie Burkett, is one of the world’s foremost puppeteers, winning the Siminovitch Prize, and James Smith assisted him with his work in her youth. She continued to work with Burkett, helping to bring The Daisy Theatre to the stage, a puppet show that was featured in Blyth in 2015.
She also crafted puppets to create, with Garratt, The Show That Smells (The Last Temptation of Jimmie Rodgers) in 2015 at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace.
It’s little surprise that, when given the chance to have her own show, it featured sculptures and puppets, a contrast to the more typical shows at the Bainton Gallery that focus on traditional two-dimensional art pieces.
She initially proposed the show in 2015 and has been working on it ever since.
“The inspiration for the show is where I live now: Huron County,” she said. “The show’s genesis, however, is more rooted in me wanting to explore my own work and my own art after having a baby.”
James Smith was talking about her and Garratt’s two-year-old daughter Goldie.
The show represents a return to her passions as well as a chance to incorporate a new role, being a mother, into her art.
She explained that the proposal was helped along by her work at the Blyth Festival, as she endeavours, through her sculptures, to tell local stories.
“This kind of art is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “I’ve wanted to work with sculptural, folk-art-like portraits of people and I thought it would be a great way to begin that work for myself.”
She said she has spent her career, sculpting and building puppets, but it was always for other people, so doing it for herself was a great experience and a great opportunity.
The show was curated by Blyth native and artist Kelly Stevenson, who was very supportive of the work, James Smith said.
“She was very open to all my ideas, which I was very appreciative of,” she said. “She really helped me stay on top of what needed to be done for the show as I went.”
James Smith said Stevenson had very little judgement for her work, which was appreciated, and allowed her to focus on the art without being pushy.
“She was excellent to work with,” James Smith said.
When asked which piece in the show was her favourite, she said she couldn’t point to one, but could provide a top-three list, including “School Marm”, “Eloise Skimings: The Poetess of Lake Huron” and “Scrim’s” – a statue of local butcher and long-time grocery store owner Don Scrimgeour.
We’ve Been Here for So Long – The Huron County Show runs until Sept. 25. For more information, visit blythfestival.com