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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Get Acquainted With Ned Smith

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 10, 2012.)

His distinctive artwork helped make the
Game News one of America’s premier
state-sponsored sporting magazines.
As a writer I’m exposed to lots of things worth sharing, and some things worth shouting from the housetops. What I have to say today is in the latter category.

Last weekend while on a trip to speak at a sportsman’s dinner in Millersburg, PA (20 miles north of Harrisburg), I had the privilege of a private tour of the Ned Smith Center, graciously conducted by Michele Hutchins, the Center’s Development Coordinator.

Many of us old-timers (I was called an “old-timer” for the very first time a few weeks ago) grew up with Ned Smith’s paintings, sketches and simple verbal descriptions. He’s been gone since 1985, but Smith was an important wildlife artist who led the way for many of today’s wildlife artists. Without exception, all those who live and work in Pennsylvania know the debt they owe to him.

Many of us remember him because his distinctive artwork gave the covers of the Pennsylvania Game News a characteristic look, and helped make the Game News one of America’s premier state-sponsored sporting magazines.

From 1966 through 1969 he authored a Game News column, and I was an avid reader. Called “Gone for the Day,” it was an almost-daily log of the things he saw and did as a nature snooper. As a writer and artist, Smith had an uncanny ability to open our eyes to what he saw. Those columns offer simple glimpses into the lives of animals, bringing the reader into the experience almost as if it was his own. Today, “Gone for the Day” columns are preserved in a book of the same name – a classic in nature writing.

At the Ned Smith Center a budding naturalist can be exposed to the kinds of things that inspired Smith to create art. Lots of specimens are preserved – feathers, bones, skins, antlers and various other artifacts serve as models for today’s sketchers, painters, and naturalists.

During my tour, Michele relayed one anecdotal story about young Ned’s penchant for storing his nature treasures in his mother’s refrigerator. I don’t suppose she ever grew accustomed to his collecting. How could she when, lifting the lid off the butter dish, she might see the head of a snake?

Smith shunned idealism in favor of realism. His animals weren’t perfect specimens – he painted whitetail bucks not as the stately trophy other artists saw, but as the ordinary representative of the species. He changed wildlife art by showing animals not as majestic creatures posing for the picture, but as fascinating life forms driven by habit and instinct to do the things animals do to survive.

That’s why his famous black bear holding a woodchuck in its mouth is so impressive. That’s why his sketch of a broad-winged hawk shows a snake in the grip of the raptor’s talons. That’s why his painting of foxes on a ledge overlooking an old farm speaks of harmony between nature and man.

Pennsylvanians are fortunate that he found his place as staff illustrator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for instilling in so many Pennsylvania hunters a sense of appreciation for the natural world and the magnificence of even its smallest citizen.

The Center doesn’t just display the work of Ned Smith. Its Olewine Gallery features changing exhibits of contemporary artists and photographers, and regularly houses noteworthy displays that make repeat visits imperative.

One not-to-miss exhibit is that of Olivia Bouler, a thirteen year old who sold her bird paintings to raise over $200,000 for Gulf oil spill relief in 2010. (She was only 11 at the time!) See “Olivia’s Birds” March through September this year.

The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art is proud to partner with the Bouler family to present the first-ever exhibition of Olivia's original bird paintings in its Olewine Gallery. Find out more online at www.NedSmithCenter.org.

The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art stands near his hometown of Millersburg, at a place where he enjoyed observing and interacting with nature. It will be a day-trip, but I promise it will be worth the drive. I can’t think of any place where the worlds of art and natural science are so naturally bridged.


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