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Late councilwoman's work part of black-history exhibit

A carving of dancing women on a gourd
A carving of dancing women on a gourd, one of Gail Smith's creations that is on display as part of the Black History Month Celebration at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester. Smith, a former Berryville councilwoman, was killed last summer. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

"The Gourd Rock Concert"
"The Gourd Rock Concert" includes Smith's contribution of the red-headed gourd in the back row. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

A picture of Smith holding one of the gourds
A picture of Smith holding one of the gourds she created is flanked by the actual gourd. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Tracy Marlatt arranges
Tracy Marlatt arranges some of the Gail Smith gourds. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Gail Smith gourd
One of Gail Smith's gourds. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A collection of tiny gourds painted to look like people holding musical instruments is part of a main exhibit at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester. "The Gourd Rock Concert" was one of the last pieces of art completed by Gail Smith, a former Berryville councilwoman.

The tiny gourd musician Smith painted is displayed along with other rocker gourds formed by members of the Virginia chapter of the American Gourd Society, who met with Smith a week before her slaying last summer, said Tracy Marlatt, director of the arts council.

Smith is one of the featured artists at the 9th Annual Black History Month Celebration at the council's gallery at 811 S. Loudoun St.

"This year we're focusing on African-American women," Marlatt said, indicating the other featured artists: Loretta Allison, of Berryville; Gerri Banks-Holsey, of Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Rayhart, of Ashburn, whose paintings depict his deep respect for black women.

Though posthumously achieving a prime spot in the window of the Shenandoah Arts Council's art show, Smith was already an accomplished artist at the time of her death, and her name lives on through her passion.

The gourds adorning the many surfaces of the gallery offer various uses. Painted gourds hang from the walls, each with a tiny hole suitable for a bird in need of a home.

"For some people it's purely decorative, for others it can be functional," Marlatt says of the birdhouse gourds. She cannot be sure of Smith's intentions for the gourds, she says.

Though currently just for display, the artwork might later be for sale, pending a legal decision about Smith's estate. Marlatt will accept the names of interested buyers.

Many of the gourds convey a sprit of lightheartedness and joy, such as a gourd on a pedestal, painted with a face and fitted with artificial hair.

Smith's rocker gourd sports a high ponytail of bright red hair and a magnificent smile to evoke the exuberant emotions of the gourd people during their rock concert.

"It's just tremendous," Marlatt says of "The Gourd Rock Concert," which also features worldly inspired singers and an otherworldly green vocalist with shades and antenna.

"Respect yourself and others" are words printed on a tiny gourd displayed next to a photo of Smith. In the photo she is holding a larger gourd painted with reds and greens, also perched on the shelf. Nearby rests a flowered wreath, which Marlatt has heard Smith wore at county fairs when selling her art and which Smith's friends recommended for the show.

Around the room messages of "hope," "love" and "respect" whisper out to viewers from hollow gourds on wooden legs, some decorated with painted flowers, and one with a little door on a hinge.

A gourd sitting on a windowsill has been carved out to look like a hat, with a ribbon trailing from it bearing the words "Godiva Chocolatier."

Also part of the exhibit are Allison's paintings. Allison, who began taking painting classes through the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department two years ago, is happy to be a part of the exhibit.

One of her favorite paintings in the exhibit is "Woman in Paint," which depicts a woman wearing shell necklaces and bracelets in front of a green background. One of her most recent paintings, it makes the best use of Allison's art lessons so far, she says.

Some of the artwork on display will be for sale, including some baskets from Ghana, which will be sold to help the women's weaving group that weaved them.

The 9th Annual Black History Month Celebration at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester will have its reception on Feb. 13 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., followed by a jazz performance by Susan Summers. For more information about the exhibit and events throughout February, call the Shenandoah Arts Council at 667-5166.


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