Louis Smart Sculptures

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I was born on March 10, 1946, in Rolla, Missouri, one of three children. My father was a man of many trades and had a welding shop in Rolla when I was very young. He later worked for the government as a machinist for twenty-five years. My mother was a homemaker throughout these years.

As my parents always liked being somewhat removed from the other people in town, we lived on the outskirts of Rolla. When I was five years old, my father completed building the house we were to live in. His patience and persistence made an impression on me even at that early time in my life as I watched him cut rocks, shaping and fitting them into a wall. He was an artisan in his work.

One of my first experiences with sculpture and the awareness of form was afforded by the red clay deposits and limestone which had been exposed by the cut Highway 66 made through a cliff by my home. I would often go there by myself and make figures out of this clay, setting the human and animal figures on the rocks. Standing below them or sitting on a shelf in the cliff, I would look up and see these forms--red clay against the gray cliff or standing out against the sky. I can remember loving those simple clay forms, recognizing my power to create or destroy them by leaving them to the rain and watch them melt in its downpour.

When I was fourteen, I was rebellious, and had a great deal of difficulty conforming to the structure of a small town public school. My major interest was drawing, and not wanting to concentrate on anything else led to my being humiliated rather than encouraged. I was trying to meet their requirements for my time, but nothing seemed to satisfy my teachers. Their tendency to punish rather than understand began my transformation into an angry adolescent. I bought a black leather jacket, turned my collar up and began skipping school. This episode in my life culminated in my being sent to reform school at Boonville, Missouri. It seemed an unjust punishment --ten months for stealing a watermelon and truancy. It was here, however, that I learned sign painting, which I have used to support myself through the years. When I was paroled, I completed high school with high marks, having learned the nature of the game.

After graduation, I moved to Kansas City where I worked in a sign shop as an apprentice sign painter. For two years, I painted billboards a hundred feet over the freeways. When I had made enough money to enable me to enroll, I began to study at the Kansas City Art Institute. I worked there from 1968 to 1970. This was one of the best times in my 1ife--as an art student; I had friends and artists to communicate with who could give me useful information. I worked on a large sculpture based on Greek mythology--a centaur with motorcycle wheels, long streaming hair and the facial structure of an American Indian. It was an over-life-size sculpture and was to be polychromed over the fiberglass body. I worked on this piece for two years at the Art Institute and one additional year after I left.

These years at the Art Institute were a time of great learning for me, but the pace of city life was too fast for me to adapt completely. After two years of working as an art student, late nights and LSD. experimentation, I had to return to the country to find my center again.

In 1971, I moved to the Missouri Ozark region where I found a farm with friends and turned an old barn into a studio. This farm was set in a valley which was aesthetically pleasing--springs and streams flowed over large boulders and the fields were bordered by hills on either side. I was alone there and used my time working with wood sculpture. Other artists would visit, bringing canvases to paint or carving tools. There were dreams of creating a colony for artists, but as with many efforts to realize a dream, the result was more beneficial in terms of the experience than actual materialization. After a summer and winter had passed, I moved back to Rolla. There I lived with an artist who had also returned. Together we formed the Cherokee Sign Company and for three years took turns working in order to provide time for our art. His father allowed me to convert an old German barn on his farm to a studio. Here I continued working, with my carving and sculpting taking a ritualistic emphasis. Drawing from designs I observed in nature, I carved animals, dancers, and Indian motifs.

In 1974, I joined a friend from the Art Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence is a college town thirty-five miles from Kansas City. Under the direction of Eldon Tafft, a professor in the Art Department at the University in Lawrence, I learned bronze casting. He was a meticulous technician and I continued studying with him until I had the opportunity to set up a foundry for a judge who wanted to cast small bronzes of Western art. I was thus able to learn the process of casting step by step. I cast his work as well as my own. At this point, I began working with models, spending long hours modeling the clay, studying the human figure, and learning how to construct adequate armatures. This was a creative period for me, but I realized that opportunities to further my art were limited in Kansas.

I investigated various locations, including Taos, New Mexico, but after a visit to Eugene, Oregon in 1976, I decided to begin again in this community. Eugene had several advantages—; There were many artists living there, the community was responsive to their work and a local community college offered excellent facilities for sculpture and casting. I moved to Eugene in September of 1977, making a living by painting signs and continued to study. The University of Oregon offered me an opportunity to further my work in figure sculpting.

It was here that I became interested in doing small sculptures in wax. It was a challenge for me to work in a smaller dimension, having worked in half size or larger before this time. Working in this vein, I could treat the pieces like a sketch, catching the essentials of a figure in gesture and movement. I could push beyond the qualities of a quick sketch, however, noting the facial expression, incorporating details of the body. I completed hundreds of these small figures and worked through the problems of balance, proportion and movement. It gave me the freedom to experiment. When I first came to Eugene, I worked in clay, porcelain or terra cotta. This gave me a chance to build large forms using plaster molds to reinforce the clay until it was sufficiently dry to remove the mold section by section, moving downward on the form. I mastered many of the technical problems of my work by teaching myself, reading or watching other artists work. I learned the process of fiberglass fabrication as well as the lost wax method of casting.

In the spring of 1982, a good friend of mine invited me to come visit her on Vashon Island, Washington. At the time, I was considering moving back to Missouri. Hard times had hit Oregon. The many lumber mills were shutting down and the economy was weak. Many artists left. Eugene went from a boomtown to just getting by. I had given up my large house and had moved myself and my studio into a garage in order to afford to keep working.

I decided to move to Vashon Island. Seattle was just a mile away from the island by ferry boat. I moved in with my friend Jennifer Lynch and Richard Lipki, an airbrush artist. The house was a large log cabin set atop a hill overlooking the Sound and the Olympic Mountains, a very wonderful spot. I fired clay and porcelain sculptures and had a place to cast in bronze in Seattle at City Art Works. There were many artists on Vashon Island and social occasions revolved around dance, music and theater.

Sign work on the island was limited, however, so after a while I found a sign job in Seattle. I settled into a small Victorian house set atop an ancient redwood stump overlooking the Space Needle and downtown Seattle. I worked and cast in the city during the week and returned to the island on weekends. For a long time, this worked out and I had the best of both worlds for over a year.

I returned to the Ozarks with a friend of mine for a visit. We floated down Current River and spent weeks camping. It was on this trip that I realized I had to return to Missouri. It was hard leaving Vashon, but I returned to Missouri in the summer of 1984. I worked on my Volvos and went out to the Indian sites to look for artifacts.

After staying through the spring and summer and saving up money, I returned to Lawrence, Kansas for the winter of 1985 to get back into bronze casting and renew my friendship with Eldon Tafft, my old instructor in foundry procedure, and learn how to set up a foundry of my own in Rolla. For two winters, 1985 and 1986, I worked in Lawrence at the University of Kansas, casting new works and building foundry equipment under the guidance of Mr. Tafft. After two years, I had gotten together enough equipment and refreshed myself on how to go about setting up my own foundry works. In the spring of 1986, I moved back to Rolla and lived with my folks until I could find a place to live and build my own studio and foundry. I found a place three miles out of Rolla, on five acres of land. I slowly built and remodeled some of the already existing structures into work space. All of my work is now drawn from life models. I work with the model exclusively, following their movements until I see something that works. The female form has become a central metaphor to my work, simultaneously expressing sensuality and eternity. I sense an exciting energy created by the attempt to convey love and devotion as well as an invitation to caress a form by sight and touch. It becomes a magical process, a discipline requiring long hours devoted to its definition.

Each model has a different persona to translate. Some models can evoke a sense of the creativity of the moment, participating by expressing their individual character in the pose they assume. I become the receiver and translator--through me flows a ribbon which weaves around the forms, penetrating to the bone-carved hollows, the intricacies of light upon the skin. I never quite know where the work will lead, to where it may evolve. I enter or try to enter a time with my model wherein he or she can act out internal feelings while seeing them reflected in my work. I draw a number of quick sketches, trying to be as free as possible, with the model entering in the decision of a final pose. I then model in wax, first establishing the position of the feet. I use a simple wire connecting rod, and reinforce the ankles with wooden picks. The strips of wax are laid, moving around the figure, creating a fabric layer by layer. A transformation takes place. After hours of work, the figure is no longer wax, but becomes an expression of the life force, lyrical and evocative.

I continue to be amazed and left breathless. To me, sculpting is an almost mystical process which demands that I make the attempt to invest life in form, to give a sense of that presence in my work.


Sculpture for me has changed. When I moved back from out west, I left working from modeling exclusively and started working from the sketches in wax and bronze I had made over the years with the models. In Rolla there was a drawing group that met once a week which I took advantage of, but there was no’t the freedom of working one-on-one. I took control turning my attention to the making of sculpture. I cast in bronze and that has consumed my time learning and relearning the procedure and making it my own. Before I used other the facilities and equipment of other people with set methods of how to cast. Having a place of my own for the first time in my life was wonderful. With no neighbors around to complain, I could make all the noise I wanted. The 5 acres had a mobile home trailer with closed-in porch and carport built on; next to it, a small out building where the foundry would take shape. I got back into my old sign profession and did sculpture when I could afford to! Keeping the bills paid was first priority, then art! The out building was small but built well, so I decided to build on to it. First I dug a long hole over 4 feet wide by 10 feet long by 4 feet deep. This would be the pouring pit, all done in concrete where the furnace and sand pit would be housed. I did the building like a farm shed post set corrugated metal roof and sides. I finished it out a little bit at a time. It took a while to get the foundry up and running. But somewhere between 1988 and 1989, I had my first pour of metal with the help of John Bradbury and Tarry Earl.

So I have adapted casting to my needs. Most of my new and works from the past 25 years are from earlier sketches in wax. I never realized how long it took to develop something like a figure, the color or patina on a figure, even the base it set on. I am 62 now and I feel even ____ than ever before! I have eliminated most of the lost motion in ___ my sense of seeing how something works and the time of development.

Art is an evolving process to be lost in the end, except for what you leave behind. It is 2008; it’ has been 20 years running the Foundry. Terry Earl and John Bradbury still help me out. We are all best of friends. I average 2 to 3 pours a year. That i’s at least 125 pounds of metal a year. It seems you never complete something like a foundry; you just keep improving on it!

In the last 20 years I have been in numerous shows in Arts Rolla and places nearby. The Missouri University of Science and Technology has been very helpful in showing the’ work of Rolla artists and purchasing their work, with the help of people like Jim Bogan in the Art Department. Also I have a collection of small works in Orval Reeves’ Gallery in Rolla for the past 10 years.

The activities other than sculpture, although they are related, are looking for Indian artifacts in fields and caves, restoring old 444 Volvos and Volkswagens. I enjoy float trips with friends on Ozark streams and gardening. Since I moved back to Rolla, both of the folks have passed away: Charles Eli Smart, Maud Ann Smart, both were 92. Being with them was my main reason for returning to Rolla, fortune may have smiled on me better elsewhere, but the rewards of the soul for me are here in the Ozarks. I have many good friends here and the love of my life Mary Lowe. We have been together for over 20 years; she is an artist, painter, and print maker.


Louie S. Smart

Personal: Born 10 March 1946, at Rolla, Missouri

1985-1986 University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Major: Bronze casting/Foundry construction
1978 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
Major: Figure sculpture. Instructor: Paul Buckner
1977-1978 Lane Community College, Eugene, Oregon0
Major: Sculpture
1975 University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Major: Sculpture
1974 University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Apprenticeship in bronze casting under Eldon Tafft, sculpture instructor
1969-1971 Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Sculpture

Professional Experience:
1975 Oxbow Foundry, Lawrence, Kansas
Owner: Mike Elwell
Casting technique: Bronze casting in ceramic shell

1997 South Central Missouri Arts Council--First Place
1992 South Central Missouri Arts Council 2nd Annual Art Exhibit, Rolla, Missouri--Honorable Mention
1991 Central Missouri Arts Council 1st Annual Art Exhibit, Rolla-- Missouri 2nd Place
1989 Professional Art Exhibit, Jefferson City, Missouri--2nd Place

Selected Group Exhibits:
Sept. 2008 Springfield, Missouri, Two Man Show, Hawthorn Gallery
Dec. 2004 Rolla, Missouri, Three Man Show, University of Missouri-Rolla
Sept. 2002 Saint Louis, Missouri, SCMAC Art Show, World Trade Center
Sept. 1995 Columbia Artist Guild, Columbia, Missouri
Oct. 1990 Vashon Island, Washington, Three Modern Realists, Blue Heron Gallery
Jan. 1988 Saint Louis, Missouri, 75th Annual Exhibit, St. Louis Artists Guild
Mar. 1986 Rolla, Missouri, Two Artists Exhibit, Rolla Fine Arts Museum
Sept. 1983 Vashon Island, Washington, Two Artists Exhibition, Blue Heron Gallery
May 1982 Eugene, Oregon, Three Artists Exhibition, Artists’ Union
Mar. 1982 Eugene, Oregon, A Group Show of Members’ Work, Artists’ Union
May 1981 Carmel, California, Bronze Sculpture Exhibit, Simic Gallery
Apr. 1981 Santa Barbara, California, Bronze Sculpture Exhibit, Giovanni Gallery
July 1980 Eugene, Oregon, Group Show, Art Festival
Oct. 1979 San Francisco, California, Ceramic Sculpture Exhibit, Hanson Gallery
Nov. 1978 Eugene, Oregon, Group Ceramics Exhibit, Lane Community College
Nov. 1977 Eugene, Oregon, Bronze Sculpture Exhibit, Maude I. Kearns Art Gallery
June 1974 Lawrence, Kansas, Bronze Sculpture Exhibit, 7 East 7th Gallery
Mar. 1973 Rolla, Missouri, Three Artists of Rolla Exhibit, Exhibit of plastic bronze and wax figures

One Man Exhibits:
Apr. 1979 Eugene, Oregon, One Man Show, Bronze Sculpture, High Street Gallery
May 1976 Lawrence, Kansas, Ceramic Sculpture Showing, Sculpture Garden, University of Kansas