East Tennessee native, Sherry Jones Smith, has been creating vibrant original works in acrylics since she began painting nearly 25 years ago. “For me, it has been impossible to see the blessings of God’s creation and not want to capture the beauty of our natural world on canvas.” Having grown up in the shadow of Walden’s Ridge, Sherry has always felt drawn to the splendor and harmony of the places now dubbed by her grandchildren, Nana’s mountains. Sherry’s love and knowledge of nature, and later choice of career as a kindergarten teacher, were nurtured by her maternal grandmother, who was a teacher, musician, gardener, booklover, and avid traveler. On visits to her grandparent’s Back Valley homeplace in Coalfield, Tennessee, walks around the property became tests on the identification of plants, flowers, and trees. Her grandmother made sure the ever-curious Sherry was always well-supplied with books on birds, flowers, trees, and anything else to do with the natural world.
From a young age, Sherry’s mother made sure her creative and artistic talents were cultivated through the study of music with piano lessons, voice lessons, clarinet lessons, and training with several other musical instruments. Sherry doesn’t remember when her first Great Smoky Mountain National Park hike occurred, although she suspects it was shortly after she received her driver’s license. She does remember once she was able to drive trips to her treasured Great Smoky mountains became more frequent, especially while living on the university campus in Knoxville.
After graduating as a co-valedictorian from her high school she entered the University of Tennessee majoring in music education. Near the end of her junior year, she made the decision to change majors to elementary education. As much as she loved music, she was not sure that there would be many jobs for music teachers. Sherry would go on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education before embarking on a 28-year career as a kindergarten and first grade teacher. Two side notes, first, like her grandmother before her, Sherry has served her church as a choir director, pianist, and organist. Currently she is the church organist. Second, it was during her time at the university she took her first art education class. Sherry was soon hired to teach kindergarten in Anderson County, Tennessee where teachers were tasked with renovation of the old schoolhouse. The faculty decided they wanted a mural. The job fell to Sherry’s when her new principal announced, “you’re artistic, you paint the mural.”
Sherry’s years in the classroom provided ample opportunity to nurture her creative spirit, including what had become a growing interest in drawing and painting. In the fall of 2001, she began serious study to improve those skills, beginning with night classes in drawing, color, and composition at North Georgia College and State University. This was followed by study of painting techniques. As part of her ongoing studies, Sherry signed up for a week-long plein air landscape painting workshop with L. Diane Johnson that was held near Asheville North Carolina. “When I signed up, I was not sure what was meant by plein air painting. After that week I was hooked. Plein air painting was the ideal complement, providing an outlet for my artistic expression and passion for nature and the outdoors.”
As her love for painting continued to grow, Sherry began attending workshops taught by leading artists in the field. The non exhaustive list includes Roger Dale Brown, Jeremy Sams, Kevin Menck, Peggy Root, Tom Root, Kathy Odum, Jeremy Doss. Roger Bansemer, L. Dianne Johnson, Jeanne Mackenzie, John Lasater, and Australian, Leon Holmes. Motivated by the ever-present desire to improve, Sherry continues to attend workshops regularly. In addition to in-person workshops, she frequently takes advantage of online courses. This was especially important during the COVID quarantine. Beginning in 2013, Sherry began participating in plein air festivals that have taken her throughout the southeast and to Plein Air Grand Marais on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and Art in the Open in Ireland. Frequent travels have taken Sherry and her easel to captivating vistas across the United States, Canada, Ireland, and the Scottish Highlands. She and her husband, John, are frequent visitors to national and state parks. They enjoy hiking mountain trails or walking along rugged seashores, providing the subjects for many of Sherry’s paintings.
After years of unsolicited commission work for friends, family, and referrals, Sherry began exhibiting as a juried artist in fine art festivals, exhibitions, and galleries. Her paintings now hang in private collections across the US and in the UK. In recent years, Sherry has combined her 28 years of experience as a classroom teacher, her own experience as a student taking classes and participating in workshops, and her many years at the easel to offer classes and workshops in acrylic painting. In addition to plein air painting, Sherry has been commissioned to complete Portraits and other studio works such as old homeplaces, little country churches, and special mountain scenes. Thank you for taking the time to read Sherry’s story. She hopes you will see the stories as they play out in each of the original paintings displayed.
It is impossible for me to view what God has blessed us with and not want to interpret that splendor in a painting. My inspiration springs from the range of light, shadow, shapes, textures and color generated by the wonder and harmony of our natural world. Whether I am experiencing the mountain vistas and captivating countryside of my native East Tennessee, or secluded seashores and compelling scenes from our frequent travels, my painting is an expressive interpretation that gives voice and feeling to visual stories of joy and personal spiritual renewal.