I met Robert E. Smith in the 1970s, when I was publishing Ozark Review along with Doug Pokorny and some other great folks. We had sent out a general call for submissions, and one day in the mail came an amazing package stuffed with poems, personal essays, and other writing that defied categorization. Accompanying many of the poems were snapshots of paintings. It turned out that the poems originated from the paintings and were essentially descriptions of what was happening in the painting.
To say the least, they were unusual. “Where Is Santa?” was a painting/poem about Santa being abducted by aliens. “Bloodshed in the Butchershop” recounted a butcher who got, uh, a little too enthusiastic. And “Birds Taste Good” was . . . mmm. Let’s not go there.
The paintings were flat-out amazing, filled with color and action from corner to corner. The wild subject matter only added to their appeal. There was something about the abandon of the paintings–even from the snapshots, we could tell that they were colorful, thickly laden with the brightest acrylic paints possible, and utterly original. We published a poem called “Nighttime in the Forest,” which included the memorable line, “The dog howled, and a dinosaur walked by.”
Later that year, we threw a picnic at Montauk State Park to celebrate the magazine’s launch and invited all the writers and artists. Robert showed up; if memory serves, he had hitchhiked from Springfield. And he had a gunny sack full of paintings for sale.
I remember thinking, “Well, he’s kind of shabby, probably needs the money,” so I bought a painting for $50, the price he quoted me. It was called “A Winter Adventure,” and it involved another spaceship, plus a sleigh with some drunks tumbling out of it, a burning log cabin, a parrot, a bear, a deer, and several other items.
Imagine my surprise, a few years later, when I visited the National Museum of American Folk Art in Washington, D.C., and there was a painting by Robert E. Smith on exhibit! It turns out that Robert had developed quite a following among artists in southwest Missouri, devotees of visionary art, and people who liked unique viewpoints. Robert was later commissioned to paint a mural in downtown Springfield, was the subject of a book, and even acted in a movie!
“A Winter Adventure” still hangs in my house, and I love to gaze at it.