Meijer Foundation gifts famed 'Portraits of American Poets' to Grand Valley

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The unveiling of a special, poetry-inspired gift to Grand Valley State University from the Meijer Foundation will follow the Fall Arts Celebration Poetry Night on Friday.

“An Evening of Poetry and Conversation with Ted Kooser and Terrance Hayes,” will be presented October 21, 7 p.m., at Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. Following the presentation will be the first viewing at Grand Valley of “Portraits of American Poets,” a series of 28 paintings by Michigan native Jack Richard Smith, who now resides in Taos, New Mexico.

Smith is widely regarded as one of the most powerful contemporary painters working in the country. The artist and a number of poets in the series will be on hand for the unveiling.

The series includes portraits of U.S. Poet Laureates Ted Kooser, Billy Collins and Charles Simic; Noble Laureate Derek Walcott; and Michigan-born poets Jim Harrison and Dan Gerber, among others. The collection of six-by-six-inch oil on copper paintings was first exhibited at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, prior to a 2009 tour to various U.S. cities.

Smith, born in Fremont, Mich., in 1950, began his training at Interlochen Arts Academy when he was only 16. As a young man he was also encouraged by both Harrison and Gerber to pursue his love of poetry. He later moved to Ohio to attend Columbus College of Art and Design, followed by the Instituto de Allende, at San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

The artist spent three years traveling across the country to the homes and studios of poets he admires because of their important contributions to literary America. Spending the time to sketch, photograph and converse with each one, the paintings were done after Smith returned to his studio in Taos.

Drawing upon his profound knowledge of art history and an alchemist’s sense of painting craft, Smith used a mixture favored by the Dutch Masters, made from raw linseed oil, white beeswax and lead salts, mixed on his kitchen stove. When painted onto copper, the pigments produce a glowing effect, bringing realism to each portrait. Though small in size, each portrait is highly detailed and conveys an intimate understanding of the poet.

Smith’s interest in miniatures was first developed as a practical convenience when traveling to work in Mexico in 1982. A self-portrait was included in another miniatures series, an important solo exhibition, The Taos Portraits, at the Harwood Museum of Art at the University of New Mexico in 2004. Learn more about the artist and his work at www.jackrichardsmith.com.