Sharlene Posey is asking for your help in cataloguing her late brother’s art work.
Jimmy Smith, of St. George Island and Eastpoint, passed away Sept. 12, at St. James Bay Health and Rehabilitation Center after a prolonged illness. He was an early resident of St. George Island, an artist, a musician and a free spirited child of the ‘60s.
Jimmy’s older brother Mike said his younger brother spent much of his childhood in Tripoli, Libya where his father was stationed on Wheelus Air Force Base. He attended the American high school at Wheelus and in 1965; began to play the guitar. Music became a lifelong passion for Jimmy, when he and Mike formed a six-man band called “Time.” By age 16, Jimmy was working five to six nights a week as a musician and earning about $300 weekly.
Jimmy graduated high school in 1968 and traveled to Switzerland to visit a girlfriend.
Then, in 1969, Moammar Khadafi ordered the American military out of Libya and the Smith family returned to Texas. Jimmy also played with several bands in Canada and the Midwest.
Mike entered the military and, in 1973, was stationed in Germany. Jimmy joined him there and again became part of the local music scene. Jimmy began studying marquetry, the art and craft of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures. He worked with two Dutch artists Michael Fickens and Rudy Schillen.
Mike returned to the US in 1975, but, Jimmy, who had found a special niche in Germany, remained for several years, traveling in western Europe and becoming fluent in German.
Jimmy returned home in 1977 and bounced around until he found St. George Island, becoming a resident about 1982, just as the building boom was gaining momentum. Like many early island residents, Jimmy worked at more than one job to make ends meet. He tended bar at Harry A’s, worked construction, played in local clubs and later ran a music shop in Eastpoint.
But his marquetry skills became a steady source of income during those years. Several island homes contain his art work, in some cases built into the structure of the house.
Mike said he believes Jimmy created 1,000 pictures, perhaps 200 of which could be described as masterpieces.
Jimmy’s sister, Sharlene, remembers he exhibited at art shows and became a member of International Marquetry Society. She said several galleries expressed interest in his work, but he had so many commissions, he couldn’t supply a gallery as well.
He also continued to pursue his music, playing with Betsy James and Clay Bailey in a band “Shotgun Annie” that performed on and off the island.
Around this time, with Jimmy at the peak of his creative skills, tragedy struck. Jimmy was diagnosed with cancer that eventually affected his vision. Even after losing an eye, he continued to create his beautiful designs using a strong magnifying glass, but in the end, marquetry became impossible for him.
He taught Mike’s wife Libby the craft and she passed it on to her son Austin, who actually completed some pieces Jimmy left unfinished.
With a reduced income due to illness and a divorce, Jimmy left the island and moved to less expensive digs in Eastpoint where he remained until his final hospitalization.
John Spohrer, a close friend of Jimmy’s, remembers him well.
“Jimmy was a very talented guy but I think that what all of his friends remember best about him was his upbeat attitude to life,” Spohrer said. “That didn’t change when his health failed. Anyone that knew him through the years of all of the horrible things that happened to him in the prime of life knew his attitude never turned negative. He stayed dedicated to his art even to point when he could hardly see, walk, or get around. It stayed important to him. His positive happy attitude toward life was one of his major attributes.
“He was loyal as a friend and a good animal owner,” he said. “He loved his dog Petey. He was really an inspiration. As he went through it all, you couldn’t help but think if something bad happened to you, you would want react to it as Jimmy did.”
Karen Dennis remembered Jimmy as a wonderful person and master storyteller. Belinda Kelliher, a friend who met Jimmy at the Blue Parrot, said he was “always worried about his friends.”
While Jimmy is gone, his memory and much of his artwork lives on, and sister Sharlene is asking for help in locating and photographing it so she can create a catalogue. Marquetry is a dying art form. Jimmy’s family owns only a few of his creations and Sharlene wants to create a permanent record of her brother’s art.
Jimmy’s work may be built into the woodwork of a building; it may adorn furniture, although those pieces are known to be rare. Most of Jimmy’s art hung on the wall like a painting. He is also known to have applied veneer to wooden cigar boxes.
Sharlene said Jimmy always signed his work and often listed his materials of the reverse side of a piece with details about where and when the work was completed.
If you believe you have a piece of Jimmy Smith’s art, please share the information with Sharlene Posey at (850) 508-2809.