Jack Middleton Smith, who taught at Sudbury Secondary School for many years, died Jan. 6 at the age of 95.
Article from Sudbury Living Magazine (2009)
A painting by A.Y. Jackson, a founding member of the Group of Seven, hung in the hallway at Sudbury High School for almost 20 years. Shortly after Jackson died in 1974, and a few months after the painting, titled Spring on the Onaping (River), was moved into the administration office, it was stolen.
The thief or thieves broke into the office through a window and took the painting, which was worth about $15,000 at the time. Today Jackson’s paintings sell at auction anywhere from $184,000 to $750,000.
Spring on the Onaping has never been found. It is an unsolved crime. A Sudbury legend. In 1990 the Town of Onaping Falls named a lookout point after Jackson to commemorate his visit to the area.
Retired Sudbury art teacher Jack Smith has a black and white print of the painting hanging in his living room. He was an acquaintance of the famous Group of Seven artist.
In the early 1950s when English-Canadians were struggling to express their own cultural identity, he introduced his students to Canadian art. When they approached him in 1953 about buying a piece of Canadian art for the school, he suggested contacting Jackson about a commission.
Smith drove Jackson to Onaping Falls to do sketches for the painting. It was a cold fall day and Jackson was on a tight schedule, says Smith. He spent about two hours doing sketches with a magic marker. The students purchased the painting for $350 two years later.
Smith, now in his 80s, has a sharp memory and has many other interesting stories to tell about his life and times as a teacher in Sudbury. He was recently honoured with a Community Builders Award for Education. This man of many talents brought his life experience, his creativity and curiosity, a sense of humour, as well as an open mind to his classroom.
He created an environment that allowed students’ creativity to bloom. Many have gone on to successful careers in the arts including Hollywood film writer Rob Adetuyi and designer Bruce Mau. Others developed a lifelong appreciation for visual arts.
Smith was born in Western Canada into an affluent family. After his father lost his lumber fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, the family moved to Toronto.
Smith inherited his father’s creativity and ability to work with his hands. As a teenager he showed promise as an artist and was encouraged by his family to pursue his talent. After high school, Smith worked as a sign painter, and eventually found work as an illustrator for Simpson’s catalogue.
During the Second World War, Smith lent his skills as an artist and designer to the Royal Canadian Air Force. He did illustrations for the air force magazine. While stationed in Moncton, he met his late wife Jean. The union produced five children, four daughters and one son, 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
After the war, Smith returned to Simpson’s. This led to a meeting with a businessman from Woodstock who was looking for someone, like Smith, who knew how to airbrush ceramics, to run his factory. In Woodstock, Smith started teaching art at night school. He found he enjoyed it and he was good at it.
“The work found me,” explains Smith.
During this time in Woodstock, Smith, who has a fine tenor voice, had a radio show called Jack Smith Sings.
After attending teachers’ college in Toronto, he was offered a job teaching visual arts at Sudbury Mining and Technical School (later Sudbury Secondary School). Jobs teaching art were scarce, so Mr. and Mrs. Smith headed north.
It is estimated Smith taught 20,000 students during his 30-year teaching career. In the 1970s, he created a senior special art program that encompassed a wide variety of art media. The program was an introduction into the arts and included classes in ceramics, typography, photography and printmaking.
Bruce Mau, founder of Bruce Mau Design Inc., of Toronto and Chicago, and currently a fellow at the Segal Design Institute, Faculty of Engineering at Northwestern University, remembers, “Mr. Smith opened a universe for me that I am still exploring. He introduced me to a work of ideas, invention, history, beauty, and truth, a world of human possibilities and shared meaning. He was unrelenting in his attention and commitment.
He was demanding and generous…and approached the work of his students…as if it was the first time he had ever encountered such energy and light…The effect was to transfer his enthusiasm and zest for creativity and inventing to the students around him.”
Mau recalls one of his final assignments. He was printing the four-colour commencement program on a one-colour offset lithography press, one colour at a time.
“Jack came into school to help me on Father’s Day. I said, ‘don’t come in’…but he came in (to help).”
His experience in Smith’s class was “awesome.” His teacher had a way of pushing and challenging him.
The graduation program for the Class of ’78, part of Mau’s portfolio, impressed the admissions people at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).
“I noticed Bruce had tremendous talent…he was quite advanced,”says Smith.
Smith remembers that one day shortly before Christmas in 1977, Mau told him he had to drop out of high school.
“He had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘I’m going to have to quit school. I’ve turned 18 and I’m told I have to get a job.’ I think his stepfather was hard on him.”
He helped his promising student find a place to live so Mau could finish school.
Smith also taught the four Adetuyi brothers, Alfons, Tom, Amos and Robert, established filmmakers, who collaborate under the Inner City Films banner.
They credit Smith with “igniting” their passion for film and television. Tom and Alfons Adetuyi attended the Community Builders Awards gala in February to cheer on their beloved teacher and to say thank you.
Joe Sintic, a retired head of guidance at Sudbury Secondary, remembers Smith as a benevolent individual who often gave students money for rent or food.
“For many his classroom was a home away from home…Countless late afternoons, and well into the evenings, Jack gave unselfishly of his time to help students complete art work as well as homework from other classes. His ability to spot artistic talent in a student and bring it to fruition was uncanny.”