He sits leisurely at one end of the building, his art work on tall stands surrounding him like a cloak. No one is taking more than a first glance at his work. I walk over, ever the one to dispense encouragement to those who display their crafts. Fishing for a compliment on his splotches of oils, I manage to say something like “What interesting work you have; I must admit I’m not in the market to buy, but I’m happy to see you surrounded by beautiful scenes.” I manage oftentimes to blubber words to cover my intention to look but not buy. I stroll from one piece to the other, thinking how much this man needs art guidance. My second thought crowds out the first: art lessons may ruin his creativity.
His expense is in tubes of oil paints, as the thickness on the “canvas” is heavy. He uses bare plywood cut in shapes. Still I recognize this man is using what he can find to convey his sincere artistic self into these wild, colorful shapes. I turn to him, standing now in front of his folding chair, grinning widely. He’s tall, almost six feet on a thin frame clothed in a white shirt, a contrast to his dark skin. I introduce myself and he tells me his name. One I’ll never forget: Charles E. Smith. I once knew another Charles Smith, a journalism teacher in one of the schools where I had taught. Of all the vendors in the Farmers’ Market downtown, this gentleman has no competitors.
Mr. Smith tells me about his art shows and how he’s sold “many, many paintings.” I once heard that an artist should never indicate anything but optimism about the number of paintings or craft works that he’s “sold.” I take him at his word. I glance again at the figures on the boards. Perhaps because I 'm not an art critic; I can't tell if these depictions from his mind were one day going to be owners’ prized possessions. Art is in the eyes of the beholder.
This smiling man is quite willing to reveal himself, as we Southerners often do. I listen. “I’m 71 years old, and I expect to live a long time. For years I’ve had these ideas inside me needin' to get out.” He mentions having been ill some years ago and writing down his thoughts had been therapeutic, so “I kept on, writing a book, each chapter originally as nine separate little books based on the happiness I found,” and explaining his beliefs.
I nod and say, “I share writing with you. I write short pieces about what I observe around me,” feeling less creative in the presence of this enthusiasm.
He then explains about his book. “It’s not complete, ‘cause I need someone to edit what I have.”
“Mr. Smith, you have a better chance of getting your work published than I. There are many minority writers on the book market You may have something to offer the public.” He nods.
An idea strikes and I add, “I’ve done some editing in the past of a few manuscripts. Let me take a look at yours.” I run through a litany of what I’ll be looking for in his work: vivid words, sentence clarity, punctuation, and deletion of unneeded wording. He smiles and agrees, bends down to a bag next to his chair and pulls out a business card. “Here’s my card. Next week I’ll bring my work to you.” I look down at the card and read
The Birth Place of Living – Ideas
Mr. Charles E. Smith
Artist, Poet, Writer, Publisher
His outlook on life is on this card. I feel a kinship with Mr. Smith and say aloud, “Mr. Smith, I’m so glad to have met you, and I hope I can help you. I feel . . .” and he finishes my sentence, “the good Lord led us to each other.”