“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This quote from Shakespeare’s famous play is widely interpreted to mean what matters is what something is, rather than what it is called. Well, we believe this to be true, but since we have three names floating around in regards to Sherry’s art, the backstory of how we arrived at sherryjsmith.com may clear things up. When you see one of Sherry’s paintings hanging on the wall you will see her signature ssjones. Why ssjones? Sherry began her study of art in 1998 with drawing classes offered by a local Georgia college. From the time she signed her first work of art she chose to sign her work ssjones, derived from her birth name Sherrian (Sherry) Suzanne Jones. So, what does this have to do with Sherry Smith? Sherry and I had our first date in the winter of 2005, years after she had begun painting. Yes, my name really is John Smith, and yes, I am married to Sherry Jones. You cannot make this stuff up. Miraculously, she agreed to a second date and in April 2006 she became Sherry Jones Smith. I still have friends who wonder “what was she thinking?”, but that is a story for another post. Neither Sherry, nor I, saw any reason to stop signing her paintings ssjones. To this day Sherry continues to sign her paintings the way she always has.
Prior to this, Sherry had moved to Atlanta. The move had allowed her to be a stay-at-home Mom for a few years until her children reached school age. She went back into the classroom and spent 17 of the next 18 years teaching kindergarten in a couple of large suburban Atlanta schools. However, she always felt out of place in the big city. It was not if she would move back home, but when. Retirement presented three opportunities. First, Sherry would be able to return to her East Tennessee roots. Second, and most important, she would be able to help her father in caring for her mother who was incapacitated as a result of a series of strokes. Third, she would be free to pursue her love of capturing God’s creation on canvas. In 2007, Sherry retired from her 28-year teaching career and joined the ranks of working artists. She said I could come with her if I wanted. After nearly 40 years living in and around Atlanta I would be moving to a town with two traffic lights.
Fast forward to 2013, as Sherry continued to grow as an artist, it was time to give more attention to the business side of things. As part of that effort, our business entity, Walden’s Ridge Gallery, LLC, was formed. Why Waldens Ridge Gallery? Sherry was born and raised in the shadow of Walden’s Ridge, located on the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. According to Sherry’s grandchildren these are “Nana’s Mountains”. The choice of Waldens Ridge Gallery as the name of her fledgling art business was her way of paying homage to her roots.
For a few years Sherry and her Sherpa Spouse, you know the guy that carries stuff, took her paintings on the road, exhibiting at juried art festivals throughout the southeast. However, the travel was tough since I was still teaching. Breaking down the displays and preparing our 26-foot camper for the trip home began late Sunday afternoon. We would then embark on an hours-long drive, followed by the unhooking and unloading in the wee hours of the morning, then up early for class. This made for some miserable Monday mornings. Sherry began to display her work closer to home at a couple of juried East Tennessee art galleries; Gallery on Main in Sweetwater, Tennessee and Appalachian Arts Craft Center in Clinton, Tennessee. In addition, we rolled out the online gallery, waldensridgegallery.com. It was my job to keep this part of the business up and running, however, I was also trying to complete my doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee while holding down a full-time job as a teaching professor. Needless to say, maintenance of the website moved to the back-burner. A few years later came a new twist in this saga. Our eye doctor owned a vacant retail space in his office building close to our Oliver Springs home. Waldens Ridge Gallery now had a brick-and-mortar location housing a gallery, studio, and classroom. For Sherry, this had been something she always wanted to do, provide a place for local art in her hometown. Her painting classes filled quickly requiring that she add adult and children classes to meet demand. Of course, this was before COVID changed everything.
Sherry and I love to travel, so it was a natural progression for Sherry to become a traveling plein air painter. This will be an ongoing subject for future blog posts, but a little background here will help. As a beginning painter, she attended her first workshop with L. Diane Johnson near Asheville, North Carolina in Spring of the year 2000. This was billed as a plein air workshop. At this point, Sherry did not know what plein air painting was. She has joked about going to this workshop still believing paint must be used straight out of the tube, no mixing allowed! She learned much that week. More importantly for her future direction as an artist, she was quickly hooked on plein air painting. Sherry had found the perfect vehicle to convey her deep respect for God’s creation and the keen sense of place that roots her to the southern Appalachian highlands. Since then Sherry has attended many plein air workshops led by top regional, national and international artists. My work often required travel to academic conferences in different areas of the country. On some of those trips, Sherry and her painting gear would travel with me, providing opportunities to paint on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. She has participated as a juried artist in several plein air festivals and “paint-outs”, traveling as far as Ireland and throughout much of the United States. When conditions do not allow for painting, she takes thousands of reference photos for studio paintings. Not long after we were married we bought our first camper. Recently we traded for our third. This has provided us the opportunity to travel across much of this beautiful country covering many miles with Sherry’s rolling studio in tow. “Good Lord willing” we hope for many more.
This leads us to our latest transition and why waldensridgegallery.com is about to become sherryjsmith.com. By the Spring of 2022, I had already worked past retirement age when the State of Tennessee offered voluntary retirement packages. COVID had led to drops in enrollment, which motivated state government budget cuts, which motivated these offers. After living and working through a global pandemic, Sherry and I had an even greater appreciation for time and how we wanted to use what we might have left. We wanted to spend more time traveling, more time with the grandchildren, more time for Sherry at the easel, more time in the garden, and more time simply being. We had seen too many of our friends and family wait too long. I accepted the package and retired from the college in May of 2022. But we were not free yet, we still had the gallery keeping us close to home. We closed the gallery on June 30, 2022. A few months later, Sherry joined the Townsend Artisan Guild as a juried artist where her work is currently on display. Last Fall Sherry was accepted as a juried artist to Plein Air Grand Marais in Minnesota on the north shore of Lake Superior, followed by a few days at Voyageurs National Park on the Canadian border. After a few days at home Sherry participated in the inaugural Foothills Plein Air Festival in Elkin, North Carolina. Next up was Sherry’s fall plein air pilgrimage to her beloved Smokies near Townsend, Tennessee, dubbed the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies”. So far this year Sherry attended multiple workshops at Plein Air South in and around Apalachicola, Florida’s Forgotten Coast, followed by a return to Townsend for a Spring wildflower pilgrimage. We found time to get to the hill country near Austin, Texas to visit grandchildren. Scheduled for later this year will be two weeks painting in the Highlands of Scotland (no, we are not taking the camper), followed by Plein Air Abingdon Festival in western Virginia, then a return to Elkin, North Carolina and the Foothills Plein Air Festival. Even though the bulk of Sherry’s work is still primarily inspired by the mountains and back roads of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, the range continues to extend. With this in mind, Sherry decided she wanted to cut through any confusion and have her online presence as an artist in the name by which most people know her, Sherry Smith. The new site is a a WordPress site, which has presented me with a whole new learning curve. Over the next few weeks we will be transitioning to this new site, sherryjsmith.com. Although the new website is active, it is still not quite ready for prime time. The paintings on the website are available and ready for their new homes. Several more will be added over the next couple of weeks. Sherry has been busy! The Facebook and Instagram pages will either be converted to be consistent with these changes, or new pages started. The new email address is email@example.com. Feel free to reach out for more information. If you are already on the mailing list you do not have to do anything, we will be merging the lists. We will have a new newsletter sign up form ready next week. Please subscribe. We promise not to spam or share. Also please let us know of any problems or mistakes that you notice. This has turned out to be a much bigger task than I realized. We welcome any suggestions to improve the site and the newsletter. Thank you for your time and support. We look forward to you being part of the ongoing adventure.