Generations in the Monroe County community associate the name Marcella Smith with the local arts scene for good reason. Smith, who died Aug. 6, 2012 at the age of 102, was an acclaimed artist who painted for decades, and she was also a pivotal player in nurturing art appreciation in southern Iowa. Thursday night, June 6, the Monroe County Arts Council opens “Tribute to Marcella”—an interactive exhibit and sale of her work. The event kicks off with a free, public reception from 4-6 p.m. at the Heritage Hall of First Iowa State Bank on the north side of the Albia square. After the exhibit’s debut, it will run through Saturday, June 8 or until all of Smith’s artwork and supply stash have been disseminated into the community—whichever occurs first.
Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. – 12 noon on Saturday.
This “Tribute to Marcella” is made possible by the generosity of Catherine Bay, who as a dear friend of Smith, purchased her house and contents several years ago and preserved the collection of paintings and supplies. Recently Bay donated these assets to the Monroe County Arts Council for distribution into the community. Arts Council volunteers have curated the artwork and prepared it for a tag sale—designed to promote awareness of Smith’s historic work, and to enable community members to purchase pieces at reasonable prices for enjoyment in their homes and offices. Frames will also be available to buy. All proceeds benefit the Monroe County Arts Council and will be used in its future work within the community.
Smith’s accumulated art supplies will be presented at no charge to area art students who visit the exhibit.
According to Annette Scieszinski, one of the volunteers organizing the event, “The arts council’s goal is to share Marcella’s creative legacy by circulating her work and encouraging artistic creativity with her leftover supplies and frames.” Because of the modest pricing of artwork and frames, and the availability of free supplies for art students, the collection is expected to clear fast.
According to an article in a 1994 Monroe County Arts Council publication, Smith always wanted to be an artist and finally got the chance in 1951 when, at age 42, she took an art class for local homemakers. After the year-long class ended she continued to paint and picked up workshops and additional classes over the years. Then in 1955, Smith accomplished her first sale of art to an Ottumwa doctor. Upon that commercial success, she adopted the brush name, “Marlée”—a combination of her first name, Marcella, and her maiden surname, “Henley” along with exercise of artistic license on spelling and the addition of an accent on the first “e”. (The art collection in the public exhibit will feature work under her given name, as well as her later, artist’s mark.)
Smith’s work as an artist was propelled by encouragement from Robert T. Bates, local art benefactor and interior designer, who often commissioned work by Smith to accentuate his decorating projects for various clients.
In addition to work as a prolific artist, Smith was an innovator in promoting the arts. In 1985 when the Monroe County Arts Council was incorporated she stepped up as an active volunteer, became a member of the Board of Directors, and was elected the group’s inaugural Program Director. Over the years, and with the support of numerous Arts Council officers and volunteers, Smith inspired an ambitious series of projects which included the following:
• A revolving art display at the Ragtime Industries building to highlight local artists’ work and to spur them to do more;
• Adult painting classes offered through Indian Hills Community College;
• The Children’s Art Program during Albia Restoration Days;
• An artist-in-residence program for disabled adults;
• Satellite operations of Iowa’s Very Special Arts Program at local facilities;
• Development of local applications for the Elder Iowans Art initiative in area nursing homes; and
• Supportive services for the Albia Restoration Days juried art show.
In 1999 as Smith’s active work as an artist was drawing to a close, she published a limited-edition book chronicling her life’s adventures. “Confetti” was marketed locally, and featured a cover graced with a custom, Richard Dutton painting of the same name. The painting portrays Smith on Benton Avenue, walking with her mother as World War I Armistice Day confetti falls from merchants’ upper-story windows. The original painting was found in Smith’s art collection, has been beautifully framed courtesy of White Oak Gallery, and will be offered for sale through a silent auction during the Tribute event June 6. People desiring to bid on the artwork, who cannot attend the “Tribute to Marcella” reception, may telephone a proxy bid into the reception by dialing 515-520-1290.
Anyone with questions about the “Tribute to Marcella” exhibit and sale may contact Annette Scieszinski, President of the Monroe County Arts Council, by telephone at 515-520-2532, or through email at <email@example.com>.