Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Injury Brought Him Creativity He Now Shares With Others

Thu., March 12, 1998

Jeff Gibson-Smith uses his abstract drawings to help in his recovery from a head injury he suffered in a car accident.

His daughter, Becky Smith, is a University High School senior studying early childhood development.

Last week, father and daughter teamed up for their own version of show-and-tell at South Pines Elementary School.

“Don’t lose your imagination,” Gibson-Smith urged the children.

Becky introduced her dad by telling the students the story of his 1996 injury and his art.

Becky spends an hour a day in the second-grade class as part of her early childhood program at the high school, because, she said, “I want to help kids.”

Her father has channeled pain from the accident, and in the process, found bold expression.

“I see things a little differently now,” Gibson-Smith, 37, told the children.

He brought examples of his work, which he accomplishes with forceful strokes of charcoal and conte crayon.

The students were captivated by his work, peering into the abstract images, and trying to find faces and shapes.

The children bubbled with questions.

“How long do you work a day?” one student asked.

Another wanted to know if he sells his art. A girl asked who his boss is.

“I’m my boss,” Gibson-Smith answered.

“Right now it’s not important for me to sell my art,” he said. “Right now, it’s kind of like my medicine.”

Teacher Kathryn Byrne said she was thrilled to have an artist of Gibson-Smith’s skill. The children learned about art as a career, as well as being exposed to a unique style of expression, she said.

“This is a rare opportunity.”

Gibson-Smith said that next to his own drawing, he loves working with children because they respond so enthusiastically to visual expression.

He has a part-time job teaching children for the Spokane Art School.

Gibson-Smith was attending Spokane Falls Community College when he suffered the head injury in the 1996 accident. He still hopes to finish his two-year degree, and wants to continue teaching art to children.

Two of his post-accident abstracts were featured last month in an exhibit of college art at the Chase Gallery at City Hall.

“They have all of the qualities you would expect to find in any mature work of art,” said Jeanette Kirishian, an art instructor SFCC.

“I think they would hold their own in any gallery.”

Gibson-Smith’s goal when he enrolled at SFCC was to become an illustrator of photo-realistic drawings.

The wreck robbed him of the fine motor control he once possessed. Now, his hands shake when he concentrates, making delicate drawings impossible.

To get around the problem, Kirishian urged him to use larger strokes and abstract images.

Now, he anchors his easel with bags of clay. He uses strong paper made of heavy fibers so it won’t shred beneath his calloused fingers. When he draws, he moves his arm like a symphony conductor.

“This is one of the only times since the accident when I feel like I’m in control,” Gibson-Smith said. “The drawings I do are me working through my healing.”

“It’s a journey. I’m coming back.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: See related story in South Side Voice, “Healing art”

See related story in South Side Voice, “Healing art”

Tags: profile

Click here to comment on this story »