Artist Feature: Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith
Artist Jeff Smith, at work on a stained glass panel. Photo: Ralph Fitzgerald, Pine Bluff, AR.

In his twenty-five year career as an architectural stained glass artist, Jeff Smith has studied with some of the world’s leading glass and design masters, and has artwork commissions throughout North America. Today he finds solace and satisfaction at his studio in the “mountains” of West Texas. Here, Smith talks about what he learned in school and how he learned to make a living creating his art.

Where did you go to school and what was your best educational takeaway?

I spiraled into my career circuitously via several campuses while studying science and biology, philosophy and religion, landscape architecture, fine arts and, finally, stained glass. A required Color Theory course at LSU channeled me into the first-ever degree-conferring stained glass program that had just been established there. These parts of my education that seemed unrelated at the time continue to serve me (and my art) well, often in unexpected ways. You never can tell. . . .

Chapel Windows by Jeff Smith
Octagonal Chapel Windows by Jeff Smith, Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, Ankeny, IA

What strategy or practice helps you run your art business efficiently?

Artist Studio vs. Production Studio: Once out of college, I eventually figured out how to make art and a living—something that I am convinced requires at least as much creativity as does the actual creative episode. After hiring full-time employees to execute large commissions, I quickly discovered the difficulty in faithfully translating an original concept into its stained glass reality. That last “5%” always seemed to get lost somewhere along the way. On top of that, being saddled with payroll limited the luxury of being selective about which commissions to accept. I finally figured out that by training a support team of independent artists who enjoy working on a contract, as-needed basis, I can enjoy the freedom to design and make my art, even those very large commissions that can be so much fun.

Tell us about your studio.

Emboldened by the fact that I was doing work throughout the country after being based in Dallas for almost twenty-five years, I and my wife, Pam, built a house and design/fabrication studio in the mountains (yes, mountains!?) of West Texas. Our “backyard” is a 36,000-acre Nature Conservancy preserve. Satellite, Internet, phone, fax, UPS, and Fedex make it very feasible to work reliably and effectively twenty-two miles from tiny Fort Davis—and 9.6 miles from pavement. Once here, I quickly perfected the dance that has allowed me to complete the largest projects of my career from the serenity of the Trans-Pecos.