The Town of Bolton, where David Smith lived and worked for more than three decades, now has an even greater share in the legacy of that artist, commonly acknowledged as the greatest American sculptor of the 20th century.
Earlier this fall, Candida Smith, the artist’s daughter, presented a work welded by Smith in 1946 to the Bolton Free Library, saying her father would have appreciated this re-affirmation of his many and deep connections to the community.
“My father’s real inspiration was the support and love of Bolton Landing,” she said, noting that Smith frequently used the welding skills that forged brilliant works of art to repair a neighbor’s plow.
Smith’s affection for Bolton Landing and its people was reciprocated, Smith said.
“When he was accused of being a communist, a neighbor came to his defense by stating ‘if David Smith is a communist, there should be more of them,’” she recalled.
“It was a warm community,” Smith said. “When my sister Becca and I arrived here every summer, we knew we were loved, that we had a place here. We only have one home: Bolton Landing.”
While Bolton Landing provided Smith with a network of extended neighbors, the hills above Bolton Landing where he lived held perhaps an even stronger, denser community, said town historian Ted Caldwell, who introduced Candida Smith.
“These wonderful neighbors were his community, a community nestled under the ridge of hills to the west, hills David Smith lovingly called Tick Ridge,” said Caldwell.
That community was the seedbed for the work Smith donated to the library: a 14 pound, welded iron key inscribed “Mayor of Tick Ridge.”
Smith made the piece to honor a local man coming home from World War II, Philbert Ainsworth, said Dida Smith.
According to Caldwell, the Ainsworths were neighbors of Smith’s and the other families on Tick Ridge.
“If David Smith wanted a cup of sugar or a scythe or a little gossip, he could cross Edgecomb Pond Road to visit John and Mary Neuman. He could go north to Valley Woods Road to visit Charlie Goggi or the small farms of Howard and Rachel Smith or Albert Belden. He could stop at the intersection Edgecomb Pond Road and Finkle Road to see Bernard and Bea Ainsworth or he could stop at the top of Slaughterhouse Hill to visit Ray Swinton,” Caldwell said.
It was a neighborhood that consisted of people who felt, and said, “If I wanted people to know my business, I’d live in town,” noted Smith.
In 1946, Dida Smith said, David Smith sculpted the large key to be presented to Ainsworth at a coming home party that included most of the neighborhood.
“It was as though he was being presented with a key to the city, although in this case the city was Tick Ridge,” said Smith.
The party was held at the Hollywood, a local bar and restaurant that was situated on the site where Frederick’s restaurant now stands, said Smith.
According to Megan Baker, the Bolton Free Library’s director, a ribbon was made by Dorothy Dehner, Smith’s first wife, so that the key could be hung from Ainsworth’s neck.
“The stories I’ve heard relate that the key was so heavy Ainsworth fell over,” said Baker.
Dida Smith later acquired the work and decided to donate it to the library earlier this summer.
“This is where we learned to read, as many of you did,” said Smith. “This library has meant a great deal to my family over the years.”
Presenting the key to Bolton Landing, Smith said, “It’s a bit eccentric, but so are we.”
Members of the Bolton Free Library’s board of trustees accepted the work on behalf of the Bolton Community.
“This will forever be a part of the Bolton Free Library,” said Hal Heusner, the chairman of the library’s board.
The work will be displayed on a wood pedestal by Bolton furniture maker Tom Brady and on a base by Mike Zuba, near a collection of art books donated in Smith’s memory by friends of the artist after his death in 1965.
The presentation of the key was made before an audience of roughly one hundred friends, neighbors and town residents, many of them relatives of Smith’s neighbors on Tick Ridge.
The presentation ceremony and the reception that followed was called ‘Coming Home,’ explained Megan Baker.
“We’re commemorating the fact that David Smith made this piece in Bolton and it’s returning to the town. But we also wanted to commemorate the piece itself and the reason why it was made by David Smith – to welcome home a fellow Boltonian,” said Baker.
“We also wanted an opportunity to thank Candida Smith for her extraordinary generosity; the entire community came together to help us do that,” said Baker.
“Many people played a vital role in making this event possible,” said Baker.”Kate Van Dyck created the posters and invitations; Cheryl and Buzz Lamb have donated wine and the following restaurants have donated food: Blue Water Manor, Villa Napoli, the Algonquin, Lakeside Lodge, Ryefield and Cate’s. We’re thank everyone for their support.”
The key and the story of its origins, said Ted Caldwell, “is more than a story about a simple piece of art; it’s a story about Bolton, about neighbors and about David Smith’s love of Bolton.”
That, he said, is what makes the donation of the key to the library such a singular gift to the town.
But the key will soon be recognized with a place in the cannon of David Smith’s work, said Peter Stevens, the executive director of the David Smith estate.
According to Stevens, the key will be included in the next edition of the artist’s catalogue raisonne.
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