October 2003

Time to "rock on" at your local public library

By David Feela

Pam Smith wanted to title her new October art exhibit at the Cortez Public Library just plain “Rockers,” but she worried about attracting too many people who simply wanted to sit down.

Then she considered “Soft Rock” because the medium was fabric – narrow tapestries that reduce the full life image of rock’n’roll icons into the more humble human dimensions of roughly three-quarters scale – but she didn’t want to haphazardly associate legends like Hendrix and Springsteen with easy listening. “The Hard Rock Library” was just begging for a lawsuit, so she settled on a title that describes what the music has done in American culture since it first hit the airwaves: “Rock On.”

Artistically known as “psmith” (she claims the “p” is silent), Smith has been creating tapestry art since 1998 when her first fabric show, “Translating Traditions,” debuted at the Durango Arts Center. If Cortez locals suspect they have seen her artwork before, they’re probably right. Smith’s fabric creations have been exhibited three times at the Cortez Cultural Center and last year at the Cortez Public Library.

Her watercolors, note cards, weavings, and sculptures also adorn some of our area businesses where locals are encouraged to look, touch, buy, or even turn toward the artist when she walks in the door and call out, “Hi, Pam.”

The “Rock On” exhibit, which will hang until the end of October, completes a year of intense creative labor.

“Basically,” Smith said, “I wore out a few CDs just listening to each musician’s heartbeat while I was looking for the right way to express their personalities.”

With a distinct talent for capturing more than just the image, Smith refuses in her tapestries to try for photographic accuracy.

“By experimenting with the face and adjusting the pose, the correct person eventually emerges. All it takes is time.” Smith’s artistic vision combines portraiture with the unlikely medium of fabric, paint, dye, and literally miles of thread.

“When I can’t find the exact colors, textures, or patterns I see in my imagination,” Smith said, “I have to manufacture them myself.”

She’s known to work out the details for each piece in her head, sometimes for weeks or even months before she sits down to draw the cartoon on giant sheets of butcher paper. Then the kitchen or living room floor becomes a kind of working surface where she drapes fabrics, creating a palette only a painter could truly appreciate.

“From the moment I begin the actual piece I am obsessed with it until it’s finished,” she said. “I pin it to the wall in stages and stare at it, often for days.”

Her idea for tapestries emerged during a summer in the woods, when she was awarded a term at the Aspen Guard Station’s “Artist-In-Residence Program” sponsored by the San Juan National Forest.

Since then Smith has donated her artwork to support diverse causes, including a local land-conservancy auction, the Dolores playground project, and the “Feed the Body, Feed the Soul,” fund-raiser held in Ames, Iowa. Recently she was invited to contribute a tapestry for an international online art auction (see <thescreamonline. com>) that will collect money for ALS medical research.

Even the Cortez Public Library benefits from Smith’s show, earning 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of each tapestry during October. The funds will be dedicated to supporting library programs for other artists. Concerned with making original art affordable to the public, Smith tries to keep her prices realistic.

“Beauty is something we hold for ransom in this culture, and that’s wrong,” she said. “If ordinary people can’t buy art without taking out a second mortgage, then the system’s screwed up.”

She believes libraries are a perfect venue for art exhibits because they are open to people from all walks of life. The idea of discovering art where a library user expected to find only information appeals to Smith’s sense of mischief.

“I love the library because you never know what you’ll find there.”