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  • Photos © Winfrid Zakowski & Alan Tabor

Metalworks, Masks & Papercuts

4 - 25 March 2009 - extended until 8 April 2009

Howard Smith's work emanates exuberance. The vibrancy it conveys comes in part from a personal conviction that good cheer is, despite the odds, the only reasonable option. It also springs from the blood: he is New Jersey-born of an African heritage that has resolutely transmuted violent deracination into a joyful noise. And it stems as well from the abiding pleasure he takes in the ably hand-wrought object.

The artisanal was a principal reason he was drawn to his adopted country, Finland, where he has lived for most of going on half a century. His first stay was in the very early 60s, when the signature Finnish design aesthetic of less as more was winning wide acclaim. He found that this immaculate minimalism had its wellspring in a venerable Finnish tradition of competent craft, a remarkably widespread capacity to improvise, with an economy of effort, from whatever materials were at hand. It was a mode of operation already inherent in his own work; and much of his subsequent career has served to gently contest the disjunction, prevalent in art establishment circles, between art and craft, between head and hand.

He works largely in artisan materials, those from which humans and other animals shape their dwelt environment - wood, pigment, clay, fibre, paper - and over the years has used them all in creating textiles, tableware, and decor objects for such preeminent Finnish firms as Iittala, Artek, Arabia, Wärtsilä and Hackman. He finds paper particularly congenial and returns to it tirelessly, sculpting, cutting, texturing and colouring it to produce a body of work singular in its imaginative scope, technical virtuosity and sheer volume. He also delights in metamorphosing the castoff - the tatty garment, the rusted machine part, the scrap of cardboard, the used broom. A few deft changes recycle the workaday as whimsy. His assemblies of found scrap metal are often so buoyant they seem about to dance.

The intrinsic visual and tactile qualities of these objets trouvés are often burnished by human use, an attribute he cherishes and preserves by working around it. His collages and appliqués are an exercise in experimental archeology. His treatment of durable surfaces with sgraffito, scumble and impasto imparts patina. His fascination with the past is reflected too in frequent allusions - to hieroglyphs, calligraphy, illuminations and drôleries. Much of his work suggests history dexterously augmented with a fresh stratum.

The layer he adds is one of generous optimism: bold gestures in line, plane and mass, rich energetic colors, contrapuntal contrasts in material, form and context. But it is a generosity disciplined by an infallible sense of proportion and equilibrium. Each work pleases as an artifact of poised order.

Now past eighty, Howard Smith continues to live and work in Finland, in a rebuilt apple barn overlooking the 17th-century ironworks village of Fiskars, namesake of the ergonomic scissors and now a remarkable artisans' collective. The house, its furnishings and the surrounding sculpture park constitute a consummate Gesamtkunstwerk that may be considered in itself a signal achievement. The Finnish state recently awarded him a lifetime annuity in recognition of his work, an acknowledgment of Howard Smith as a national treasure.

© Tim Steffa

Curriculum Vitae

Howard Smith was born 1928 in Moorestown, New Jersey where he spent his schooling years. In 1949 he joined the army, was promoted sergeant in 1950 and posted to Japan and Korea. He was later posted to West Germany before being honourably discharged from the army in 1958. He began art studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1960, of which he became a fellow in 1962. He made his first trip to Finland in the same year as a member of the Young America Presents group and remained there, working supported by an art oriented advertising agency. He had his first private exhibition in Helsinki 1963, produced many interior designs, as well as spending a short time as an assistant to Kaj Franck at the Institute of Applied Arts in Helsinki. He exhibited widely in Finland in the 1960’s and early 1970’s as well as completing a number of large commissions for murals and colour schemes. He became well known to large audience with his interior textiles for Vallila Interiors. In1976 he moved back to the United States, to California, where he stayed until 1984. On his return to Finland he became a visiting artist at the Arabia ceramics factory in Helsinki, and designed for them from 1986-1995. In 1988 he and ceramic artist Erna Aaltonen formed the Arteos Studio, a collaborative ceramic/art project.  They moved to Fiskars near Helsinki in 1996, where they continue to live today.


Solo Exhibitions




Drawings & paper collages, Galeria Pinx, Helsinki


Paper collages, watercolours, paintings, drawings & sculpture, Galeria Pinx, Helsinki


Appliqués, Artek shop, Helsinki


Paper collages, watercolours, prints & sculpture, Tromsø Museum, Tromsø, Norway


Appliqués & multiples, Waino Aaltonen Museum, Turku
Appliqués & serigraphs, Galerie Artek, Helsinki


Printed fabrics & appliqués, Asko Furniture Company, Oulu


Serigraphs, University of California, Haywood


Object collages, Hermes Club, Helsinki


Paintings, The Gallery (later Gallery Tanner), Los Angeles


Prints, tapestries, printed textiles & masks, Clark Humanities Museum, Scripps College, Claremont
Printed textile works & prints, University of California, Los Angeles


Masks, Beyond Baroque Foundation, Venice City Hall, California
Wall Hangings, printed fabrics, sculpture & masks, Asanti Gallery, Los Angeles


Prints, appliqués & masks, Chi-Wara Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia


Prints, wooden sculptures & appliqués, Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles
Paperworks, masks, sculpture, gouaches, sand-blasted glass, Chrysalis Gallery, Upland, California


Artek salesroom, Helsinki


Papercuts, paintings on paper & reliefs on handmade paper, Galleria Bronda, Helsinki


Ceramics, Galleria Bronda, Helsinki


Ceramics, Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki


Collages of handmade paper and wastepaper, Tervakoski Meeting Hall, Janakkala
The World of Howard Smith’s Interior Design, Skanno Salesroom in Helsinki
Oil paintings & ceramics, Galleria 88, Helsinki


Ceramic clocks, Verlaramta, Tampere


Prints on handmade paper, Siltakatu branch, KOP Bank, Joensuu
Ceramics & graphics, Janakkalan Osuuspankki Bank, Turenki


Ceramics, Vuorelma, Lahti
Teppo Hurme and Tuula Silvonen ceramics centre, Asikkala


30-year retrospective, Hämeenlinna Art Museum
Ceramics, prints, wooden sculptures, Galleria Grafiart, Turku


30-year retrospective, Savonlinna Art Museum
Paintings, drawings, sculpture & ceramics, Husa Gallery, Tampere
Papersmith: Works in Paper, Finnish Glass Museum, Riihimaki
Sculpture, paintings & ceramics, Galerie Kaj Forsblom, Helsinki


Works in paper, Galleria Bau, Helsinki
Papercuts, Kuparipaja, Fiskars


Works in paper, Korttien Talo, Hämeenlinna


40-year retrospective, Galleria Nefret, Turku


About Faces, masks, Kuparipaja, Fiskars & touring - Kanneltalo, Helsinki & Vuotalo, Helsinki


Masks, paper collages and papercuts, Galleria Nefret, Turku


80th Birthday Exhibition, Kuparipaja, Fiskars


Metalworks, Masks, Papercuts, Galerie Besson, London







Lecturer, Art Department of the University of California, Haywood, California


Lecturer, Art Department of Scripps College, Claremont, California


Lecturer, La Verne College, California


Lecturer, University of Art and Design, Helsinki


Lecturer, Department of Art History, Abo Akademi, University of Turku



Awards and distinctions:




Grant from the State Design Council


Prize of the Ida Aalberg Society, Janakkala


Grant from the municipality of Janakkala


State Design Prize


Honorary member of the Fiskars cooperative of artisans, designers and artists


Granted a state artist’s pension



Works in Public Collections:


Arabia Ceramics Museum, Helsinki
Design Museum, Helsinki
City of Espoo
City of Helsinki
Hämeenlinna Art Museum
Municipality of Janakkala
Johnson Publishing Co, Chicago
Lemminäinen Oy, Helsinki
Museum of African-American Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Palace of Fine Art, Mexico City
Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
Turku City Art Museum
Vallila Interiors, Helsinki
Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Rovaniemi Art Museum






Howard Smith, Jussi Suomala, 2008, Like

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