Sam Smith - Boats, Beasts and Beauties

Sam Smith (1908-1983) was an artist best known for his hand-carved painted wooden toys and sculpture. His work often depicts themes of the sea, particularly boats and harbours, and has a natural synergy with the Scottish Fisheries Museum collection.

boat Golda Eagle

Sam's work began as simplistic elements that could be easily reproduced for sale and gradually developed into more singular and complex works of sculpture, all signed "Sam Smith. Genuine, England!"

Many works are toys for grown-ups with 'adult' depths of meaning. His figures can be seen as satirical, revealing deeper instincts beneath social conventions, all with a keen sense of the comical and an eye for the absurd. 

Sam was true eccentric, a special kind of visionary genius that the British Isles is well endowed with but which we are usually too modest or embarrassed to talk about. An admirer of the graphic tradition of Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious, Sam's influence can in turn be seen in the work of British Pop artists such as Peter Blake and the surrealism of psychedelia.

Exhibition dates:

Monday 14 September – Sunday 5 January 2014

Open : Mon – Sat : 10 – 4.30, Sun : 12 – 4.30, last admissions 1 hour before closing

Entry : included in museum admission, accompanied children FREE

three small boatsBackground

Artist Quotes:

"Children's toys are mainly about pretending to be grown-up. The things I make are about what it's like when you get there."

"As I get older, I get less interested in the way a thing looks, and more interested in the spirit that hides within it; so that the things I make are meant to be looked into, rather than looked at."

"If people are born with a purpose I was born to be a watcher."

Sam was born Alan Verner Smith in 1908, the son of a steam ship captain and he grew up on and around boats inthe busy port of Southampton. The bustle of the town's ships, shops and trams provided an early fascination for him, as did the stars of silent cinema and the decorations and props for the local theatre and travelling fair. He always knew he wanted to be an artist and these subjects from his childhood would provide a lasting influence on his life's work.

Sam SmithSam's artistic gift continued to develop and he studied at Bournemouth School of Art and Westminster School of Art. However he found it hard to make a living as a painter and led a marginal existence for some time until he found work as a gallery assistant at the Little Gallery in London, which specialised in design, craft and
traditional European folk toys. Sam was greatly affected by these and set about making similar objects himself, quickly developing a reputation and exhibiting his work.

During WWII Sam worked as a draughtsman designing military bridges, and afterwards settled in Devon and resumed to making toys. A successful display at the 1951 Festival Of Britain led to an exhibition in New York, and from 1955 onward Sam sold much of his work in America where he developed something of a cult following.

Happy Handbell RingerSam was enthralled by the 'theatricality' of everyday life and dressing up for special occasions, the ritual and performance of social customs. He spoke of his works not as simply representational but as self-creating characters, displaying individual
personalities. His interest in display and packaging often led him to create specially designed boxes for each piece.

He employed a theatrical cast of characters that he would reinvent as archetypes; sailors, retired military, lovers, circus animals. And performers. The roles he often cast for female characters as brides, burlesques, newlyweds and harpies suggest a darker vision.

Sam was exhibited widely in the 1960s-70s and in 1976 the Arts Council commissioned a film about him, Sam Smith Genuine England. Sam's career culminated in a retrospective exhibition in 1980 at London's Serpentine Gallery.

Unfortunately this coincided with his falling ill and he died 1983. There were several regional exhibitions of his work in subsequent years.

This is the first Sam Smith exhibition in 10 years and his first showing in Scotland.

Sam has work in many international private and public collections including the Crafts Council, who are kindly lending to this exhibition. 
Please note: Sam Smith – an exhibition of works on paper is also on show at the University of St Andrews
Exhibition dates :
Wednesday 2 October – Friday 20 December 2013
A : School of Art History, 79 North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL Open : Mon-Fri
10am-4.30pm

Make your own Toys

After you have visited the exhibition, why not download one of our art activity sheets and get creative yourself?

Choose from a boats mobile, part 1 and part 2 or a Jumping Jock

Each activity has been designed by Suzie McIvor for the exhibition and can be created on A4 or A3 paper or card.