POWNAL — June LaCombe sat with the sculptor Gary Haven Smith on a smooth granite bench that he had carved from a rugged boulder. The bench was situated in a garden grove teeming with life, and LaCombe was struck by how organic and alive the bench felt.

She asked, “Do you think it will grow?”

She was kidding, of course, but that’s how vibrant the rock seemed underneath her body. It almost was if LaCombe could feel time passing through the veins of the stone.

Smith, who died last fall, had the ability to make stone come to life. He was awed by nature, and his work reflected both his respect for the natural world and his ability to transform it without blighting it. The bench was a perfect example of Smith’s deft and delicate handling of his material, LaCombe said. He pushed its limits, doing things with stone that others could not, but never making it feel unnatural or out of place. Somehow, he found the soul of the stone and gave it voice, LaCombe said.

“He did incredible work with stone, really striving to go beyond what anybody else could do,” she said.

Gary Haven Smith’s “Forever,” granite.

Smith died last September at age 69 after a brief illness. To honor him, LaCombe, a sculpture curator, is showing 15 or so of his pieces at Hawk Ridge Farm in Pownal in a show titled “Reflection.” A reception and open house will be June 23, and the exhibition is open otherwise by appointment.

LaCombe hopes people come to see all the work on view, while paying respect to Smith in particular. His pieces are scattered across the meadow at the farm, interacting with the work of several other New England sculptors. On view until June 28, “Reflection” gathers both large-scale exterior sculpture and interior work from Smith’s studio. “This is an opportunity to see his outstanding work in one place and look back at his great work,” LaCombe said.

Smith was from Northwood, New Hampshire, and showed his work extensively across Maine. LaCombe exhibited his sculpture for 29 years and organized solo shows of his work at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in 2016 and in the gardens of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art last year. Many of the half-dozen human-scale pieces in the spring show in Pownal were displayed at Ogunquit last summer. Smith died just as the Ogunquit show was winding down, so LaCombe had most of the pieces trucked to her farm instead of returning them to New Hampshire, so she could include them in this tribute exhibition.

“Window of Opportunity,” foreground, “Gathering,” and “Janus” are among more than a dozen works by sculpturist Gary Haven Smith featured in an exhibition at Hawk Ridge Farm through late June.

One of the pieces, “Voluta,” remains on longterm loan to the museum, which is raising money to buy it. Michael Mansfield, now in his second year as director of the Ogunquit museum, said Smith’s sculpture helped him acclimate to his new job and environment, and helped to ground him and create a sense of place – and belonging.

“Over and Under,” a granite sculpture by Gary Haven Smith, is part of a a private collection owned by June LaCombe. LaCombe is featuring more than a dozen other works during an exhibition at her home at Hawk Ridge Farm through late June. Nearly 70 sculptures are for sale during the show.

“This is the meeting place of rocks and water – or the sky and the sea – those fundamental elements of earth and the environment presented in very clear terms,” Mansfield said. “Living with his sculptures each day in the snow, in the fog, in the rain, or sharp summer sunlight, I’ve grown to see them in terms of that union, that these works in stone trace a communion of elements through the artist’s gentle line and fluid sculptural form.”

Walking among the sculptures scattered about the sloping, green meadow, LaCombe called Smith “one of the finest artists I worked with. He was completely comfortable with abstraction but always inspired by his woodland landscape, his apple trees and his extensive gardens.”

In Pownal, visitors get to see his ability to bring fluidity and form to ancient material. Smith cut with precision and polished his rock to a shine. He cut, carved and worked the granite with diamond-embedded saws, a large wire saw – “the size of two-car garage,” LaCombe said – carbide-tipped cutting tools, grinders and sandblasters.

He had such skill he could carve a piece of granite like he was skinning an apple, she said. He carved patterns into stones and created negative space from huge slabs. His garage-size wire saw allowed him to cut through rocks that weighed tons. He turned massive boulders into smooth, symmetrical forms that resembled waves, ringlets and rising spirals.

His goal always was to find and release the fluidity and movement in a piece of stone.

Smith at work in his studio in New Hampshire.

He once suggested in an interview with Design New England that he perceived his sculpting process as something of a dance, with the stone his partner. “I’ve learned to strike a balance between my will and that of the stone,” he told the magazine. “Each rock comes with its own criteria, and to reach the final expression, we work together.”

In an interview with LaCombe, Smith explained why he favored rural New England. “I was told that, to be a serious artist, I would have to be in New York City, but I know that I could not do the work that I am doing. I have this sensibility because I live in rural New Hampshire,” he said. “People who live in urban environments have the angst they do because they have little opportunity to focus on infinity, to look to the sea and to the mountains and find awe and serenity. We are susceptible to awe. The world of nature presents itself if your eyes are open.”

Smith was born in Boston in 1948 and studied at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where he also taught. The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts named him a Lifetime Fellow.

Most summers for 20 years, he taught a session at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland, Vermont. Students sought him out because of his cutting techniques and his ability to work with surfaces, said Carol Driscoll, the center’s director.

Because Smith was trained as a painter, he knew about mark making and “what was effective if you used stone as a surface as opposed to canvas,” Driscoll said.

His workshops on gold-leafing and sandblasting were always well attended, she said, because his set of skills was unique.

“He had a very deep tool kit and the experience of how to use non-traditional material to get the sculptural effect he was looking for,” she said. “He pushed the material. There was a cerebral inquiry that he was working out through art. But mostly, he was just a wonderful human being. Gary was unusual in that ‘kind’ seems like such an inadequate word. He was affable and had a great sense of humor. He didn’t impose himself on anybody, but if you wanted to learn, he was an endless source of information.”

June LaCombe with “Give and Take,” granite and gold leaf.

He was low-key, which meant he kept a low profile, Driscoll said. But he was well known in New England sculpture circles, and notice of his death in a Carving Studio newsletter elicited an outpouring of affection, Driscoll said. “People were really moved by the news,” she said.

That’s why LaCombe decided to feature his work again this year. The news of Smith’s death may not have reached his collectors and admirers in Maine, she said, and she wants people to have the chance to reflect on his life and work.

At Hawk Ridge Farm, she has arranged the pieces so they look naturally situated among the rolling hills and fields of green. “Boogie Woogie II” twists like a vertical wave, rising from a pedestal and reaching toward the sky in polished black granite. “Give and Take,” also carved from black granite and with a symmetrically hallowed center painted in golf leaf, catches the sun at certain times of the day, creating an unlikely sparkle.

“Forever” feels almost like a memorial or marker, slightly totemic in shape. LaCombe placed it under a maple tree and among a bed of budding flowers, giving it the gift of time, space and life.

Smith excelled at his art, LaCombe said, because he was confident in his skills and comfortable in his vision. He could execute what he saw in his head, because of his intuition and his cerebral approach. He was a traditional sculptor, intent on giving voice to ancient stone and working with the spirit of the rock, always. But he also embraced technology and was among the first sculptors she knew who used a computer for some of his design work. “With Gary, it was always a balance of ancient and contemporary,” she said. “He had an even, deep keel. He had direction, and he followed that direction. He went to work, and one thing always led to another thing and informed the next thing.”

He was a graceful, quiet and dedicated artist who made stone feel alive.


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