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 firstname.lastname@example.org