WIT IS THE FIRST and lasting word that comes to mind about Leon Smith of Ancramdale, whether one’s viewing his sculptures large and small, or chatting with him while he works in his studio.
Smith has been a sculptor for more than 40 years, 20 of those years in Ancramdale. Born in 1933 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, which he describes as “tropical,” he started out in dentistry at Sydney University. Soon, however, he turned to art school in Sydney and then London.
Nevertheless, his dental studies have served him well. “Dentistry is large construction in microcosm,” he told Jay Corcoran, who made “Leon Smith: A Life of Art,” a 14-minute film in 2011 (corcoranproductions.com). The techniques of dental bridgework set Smith on the path to his small sculptures.
Smith came to the United States in 1964 and moved slowly north from Manhattan to Westchester County and then to Columbia County. He showed his sculpture along the way, in SoHo, Hastings on Hudson, Florida and Belgium, and in 1998 with the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, which still represents his work today.
“It was here or the Hamptons,” he said in October, but it can be hard to know when Smith is kidding.
“Here,” in Ancramdale, Smith created Smith Hill, a 20-acre sculpture park of his work. “I wanted a terrain of my own design,” he told Corcoran, and the wooded groves, reached on foot or by golf cart, are full of individual and narrative sculptures.
Smith also has permanent installations in Pittsfield, MA, at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, Iona College in New Rochelle, Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie and at the Delancey Street Foundation offices in San Francisco and Santa Fe. Close to home, “Big Green Chair” can be seen outside the Roe Jan Community Library on Route 22 in Copake.
For the last five years, Smith has worked daily in his studio, assisted by John Brunese with his larger welded works. Smith works on several pieces at a time, so that if he’s momentarily stumped on one, he can turn to another. “It’s a matter of connecting shapes,” he told Corcoran, and, “I like finding odd objects and putting them together,” he said last fall.
In this last category are included the 6,000 small combs he ordered from China, knowing he would use them in some way; the doll eyes ordered from a doll manufacturer, put together in “Eyeball”; and 14 small cow figures lined up in facing rows of seven in a 12 x 12-inch box titled “Condensed Milk.” Dozens of works like this are for sale in a shop next to Smith’s studio.
Smith’s studio and sculpture park are open to the public by appointment. The Haddad Gallery plans additional Open Houses in 2017. For more information, visit leonsmithsculpture.com or carriehaddedgallery.com. For an appointment, call the Haddad Gallery, 518 828-1915.