Stones & Stuff

Wheth­er it’s rocks or pic­ture frames, Frank­ford artist Jean Gren­fell Smith can see artist­ic pos­sib­il­it­ies in just about any­thing.

he guy who used to live across the street had a lot of rocks in front of his house, Jean Gren­fell Smith re­calls. They were heavy stones that her Hedge Street neigh­bor had brought home from a pav­ing job a few years back. There must have been 40 of them piled out near the street.

ldquo;I kept look­ing at the rocks, and the pile was get­ting lower and lower be­cause people were tak­ing them home to use as door­stops,” she said.

Smith had an­oth­er idea. The self-taught Frank­ford artist thought she might be able to paint pic­tures on some of those stones. Well, why not? Smith doesn’t feel tied to tra­di­tion­al can­vas. The first time she tried her hand at paint­ing 20 years ago, she used a piece of lin­en. She’s since painted on wood, pa­per, an empty pic­ture frame and a mold used for tuna salad. 

Be­sides, she said, she comes from a “can” fam­ily. 

“I’ll try any­thing when it comes to art­work,” Smith said. 

So she tried her hand at rock-paint­ing, and for the past two Mays, one of those very hard and heavy paint­ings has been ex­hib­ited at 509 S. Broad St., along with the works of oth­er seni­or artists as part of the Phil­adelphia Cor­por­a­tion for Aging’s Cel­eb­rate Arts and Aging show.

Last year, Smith’s daugh­ter, Donna-Lee, en­cour­aged her to enter a piece for the ex­hib­i­tion, but she did it so close to the dead­line that she had to bor­row a rock paint­ing she’d giv­en to her sis­ter. This year, too, she sub­mit­ted a rock that she painted as a gift. This year and last, she got of­fers from buy­ers but had to tell them she couldn’t sell what wasn’t hers any­more.

Most of the time, Smith, 70, paints with ac­rylics. She takes her in­spir­a­tion and sub­ject mat­ter from just about any­where — pho­tos she comes across, designs she no­tices, even a scene that’s on wall­pa­per in her kit­chen.

A quick look through some of her work makes it ob­vi­ous that she likes rur­al scenes. Farm scenes.

“I’m from a farm that was, be­lieve it or not, in Fair­mount Park,” she ex­plained. “It was a little farm that was owned by the Read­ing Rail­road.”

If it still ex­is­ted, the farm would be near the Schuylkill Ex­press­way’s Mont­gomery exit. Smith and her fam­ily lived there un­til she was a young teen. Her fath­er, a rail­road man, was al­lowed to live on the prop­erty for $8 a month.

“We had to move be­cause they were build­ing the ex­press­way,” she said. 

Smith lived in Kens­ing­ton and Fox Chase be­fore mov­ing to Frank­ford 17 years ago.

She paints for her own en­joy­ment. She did ac­cept a small com­mis­sion from her hus­band’s boss to paint a pic­ture of his house.

Right now she’s work­ing on a paint­ing on a stone that she found while walk­ing her dog, as well as a paint­ing of the old Wood­side Park. 

Smith likes ex­hib­it­ing her work and looks for­ward to tak­ing part in the Phil­adelphia Cor­por­a­tion for Aging art show next year. She also has re­ceived some valu­able ad­vice.

ldquo;My daugh­ter said, ‘Next year, paint something on a can­vas and don’t give it to any­body.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be  reached at 215-354-3110 or

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