Worlds beyond My Window
The Life and Work of Gertrude McCarty Smith
A kaleidoscope of creativity explodes on the page from one of the South’s most underappreciated artists
Artist, columnist, and poet Gertrude McCarty Smith (1923–2007) of Collins, Mississippi, carried herself as a demure and proper southern lady, yet this was deceiving as she was a prolific, creative trailblazer who had collectors and dedicated readers from coast to coast, and even in Europe. She grew up during the Great Depression with only some vivid storytelling and pictures from the family Bible to inspire and kindle her artistic spirit. However, at the age of ten, her career launched when her grandmother coaxed her with a box of crayons to milk the family cow—her seventy-year love affair with the arts was born. Over the years, she would express her creativity in many forms, resulting in thousands of paintings, sculptures, songs, poems, and newspaper columns and along the way a variety of artful cakes, as she ran a celebrated twenty-five-year cake business. Her art appeared in all shapes, sizes, materials, and “eatability.”
For most of her early career, Gertrude dabbled with a variety of styles—with subjects mostly centered around life in rural Mississippi and her spiritual life. But in 1980 at the age of fifty-seven, she attended her first Mississippi Art Colony at Camp Jacob in Utica, Mississippi. Over the next fifteen years, she would make her pilgrimage twice a year to be inspired by celebrated guest instructors from around the nation and connect with fellow artists. The Colony was a major catalyst, exposing her to new styles, giving her encouragement and freedom to experiment. Gertrude said of the Colony, “I never knew anything about abstract art, but it fascinated me to no end. Abstract art to me is like a beautiful melody without words. In mixed media, I am in another world and often am surprised at the piece that evolves from the torn watercolor papers. The effect is a kaleidoscope of colors that makes the retinas dance.”
This book features more than 150 images; a dozen poems; insightful essays from New York art dealer Stephen Rosenberg, acclaimed southern cultural scholar and curator Pat Pinson, and artist, curator, and instructor Rick Wilemon; along with a foreword by Tommy King, president of William Carey University; and a chronicle of her life’s journey by her son-in-law, Thomas R. Brooks.
As Rosenberg has said, “Gertrude Smith is a remarkable and authentic American woman who teaches us that talent and creativity combined with a humanistic spirit is both a state of mind and a state of grace—at any age.”
Book proceeds will benefit the Gertrude McCarty Smith Foundation for the Arts to bring access and passion for literature, performance, and visual arts to children in underserved communities throughout Mississippi.
"Gertrude McCarty Smith’s impact on the art world deserves an honest look by anyone who wishes to understand the unique perspective of a self-taught artist and her lasting impact on twentieth-century Mississippi art. "- From the foreword by Tommy King
"It was my pleasure to have known Gertrude McCarty Smith as a dear friend and as an Honored Artist recognized by the Mississippi State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Gertrude stands among the most talented women artists in the history of our state. She made art out of what was in her life, and the art of her life is her gift to us all. "- Gladys Kemp Lisanby, founder of the Mississippi State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and recipient of the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2005
"In 1982, SCAD was pleased to host an exhibition of Gertrude McCarty Smith paintings. We saw in her work, and in Gertrude herself, what is still evident today: Gertrude was a visionary, a pioneer of her time, who sought to spark the dreams of other creatives. Today, her life and work are sustenance for those who seek to refine their craft and find their place and people. From humble beginnings—and through no small measure of resolve—she rose to prominence and is celebrated as an esteemed artist and poet. Her story is one of persistence, strength, and creativity. "- Paula Wallace, President and Founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
"I only had a brief, but inspirational encounter with Gertrude McCarty Smith while I was at the Mississippi Arts Commission, but I knew she was a force. She was, as she writes in her poem New Vistas, her ‘own Contemporary Woman. ’ This joyful and comprehensive volume of her life, her work, and her creative legacy is remarkable and important. There is a complex innocence in these words, these paintings, and these pages. A community and self-taught storytelling artist, GMS was a brilliant, working-class, enterprising woman with a deeply spiritual, rural perspective. Those gifts transformed her Piney Woods, Mississippi, upbringing and life experiences, elevating her to the greater artistic world. One can almost hear the abstract, nocturnal pieces hum and the mixed-media works speak directly to the environment of her place and time. Grit, determination, and vision are the hallmarks of this outpouring, and they radiate from this fine book. "- Malcolm White, former director of the Mississippi Arts Commission and author of The Artful Evolution of Hal & Mal's
"Upon getting reacquainted with Gertrude McCarty Smith through her life story, Worlds beyond My Window, I am struck with an urge to recommit my life to my craft. All too often we let society or social norms impose parameters on our lives. ‘We're too old. ’ Or ‘We aren't trained. ’ None of that entered Gertrude Smith's mind. I hate to think what we would have missed had she not followed her heart and her talent. "- Walt Grayson, longtime host of Mississippi Roads