A retired couple from Port Joli is making sure the late John Smith of Sherose Island goes down in the history books as one of Nova Scotia’s outstanding duck carvers and folk artists.
John Smith was a local fishermen and carpenter from Sherose Island who made decoys that he sold for $1 to gunners, $2 to tourists, $3 for the more decorative ones. He also made folk art and different novelties. He had a little shop in Barrington and passed away in 1968.
Tom and Joan Stephenson became familiar with Smith’s work in the early 1980s when Gary and Dale Guyette, authors of the book Decoys of Maritime Canada, came into their antique shop and identified some of their decoys as ones made by Smith, telling the Stephensons, “you can tell by the dot, the sparkle in the eye.”
Since then, Stephenson has been a collector of his work.
“Buying and selling decoys, I recognized John Smith’s work, so I started collecting them and other items he made for decorative purposes,” said Tom.
As Stephenson started collecting, “he came to realize John Smith probably carved more than any other Nova Scotia carver,” said Joan, with whistlers, goldeneye and bluebills the most common. Smith also made whirligigs, napkin holders, door stops, decorative small wooden plaques and lawn ornaments.
“His work can still be found,” said Joan. “He made these wonderful tulips with a metal stand and turned base. If you find one of these it might sell for $100 in an antique store, but maybe you find one in a junk box for $2 at a yard sale. He made all these cute little novelties.”
John Smith rarely signed his work, but his colour and style are distinctive, said Joan.
“It’s hard to find information on him,” she said.
The book written by the Stephensons – John Smith, Folk Artist and Decoy Carver – is 32 pages and contains 34 coloured photos of Smith’s work as well as his homestead on Sherose Island and workshop, which was moved to Barrington Passage. Memories of John Smith and his work are also shared on the editorial pages by those who knew him.
“The Stephensons hope more will be learned about John Smith as a result of their book,” said Joan. “He will go unnoticed if we don’t do some little thing about it.”
Only 100 copies of the book have been printed. Anyone wanting a copy can contact the Stephensons by phone at 902-683-2970 to make the arrangements.