The Hippo


Jul 15, 2019








Gary Haven Smith installing sculptures at the McIninch Art Gallery. Kelly Sennott photo.

See “Gary Haven Smith: A Celebration of Sculpture”

Where: McIninch Art Gallery, Southern New Hampshire University, 2500 N. River Road, Manchester
When: On view Jan. 14 through Feb. 20; reception Thursday, Jan. 21, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Contact:,, 629-4622

Sculpting with stone
SNHU showcases art by Northwood’s Gary Haven Smith

By Kelly Sennott

 For sculptor Gary Haven Smith, it all starts with the materials — particularly granite, which he uses most for his pieces and gets from New Hampshire quarries. He thinks of the boulders as “time capsules,” remnants from the state’s last ice age 12,000 years ago.

“They were part of the legacy of the White Mountains,” he said during a break from installing sculptures and paintings in his latest show at Southern New Hampshire University. “For me, they come with all this heritage.”
The Northwood artist’s exhibition, “Gary Haven Smith: A Celebration of Sculpture,” is on view at the school’s McIninch Art Gallery Jan. 14 through Feb. 20, with a reception on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 5 to 7 p.m.
The art decorates the gallery, and two sculptures stand in front of Belknap Hall nearby. While many of them showcase smooth curvature, for the most part, they also take on organic, natural shapes. What Smith does with a piece depends on the qualities already present.
“You start with a boulder, and it comes to the party with certain information — shape, size, color. It’s up to me to say, what can I do with that? What can I do to this to really make this boulder come alive? Certain boulders lend themselves to different techniques. … But I always leave an element of the original piece,” Smith said.
Gallery Director Debbie Disston said she admires Smith’s reverence for his materials. 
“But there’s also innovation. The technique Gary employs is really curious to me because he’s figured out a way to work with this massive object and not have any assistance. He does everything himself. That’s very different, especially in contemporary sculpture,” Disston said.
Indeed, some of the things Smith has done with stone — make it curve, layer and form different pictures and textures — is only possible with one-of-a-kind tools and machinery he developed personally.
“Along the way, I kept pushing boundaries. I developed equipment. You’ll see some of [my] pieces are paper-thin. You can’t carve that. You can only do that by the process I developed to be able to articulate these very thin pieces of stone,” Smith said.
Disston said she invited Smith to highlight an artist who’s a “fixture in the New England sculpture world” while at the same time celebrate the SNHU sculpture park’s fifth year. Right now, it’s made of 14 pieces scattered around the campus grounds. 
“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the five years we’ve been bringing sculptors to our campus, and it’s proven to be a successful initiative. What I wanted to do to mark that milestone was recognize an important New Hampshire sculptor,” Disston said.
While Smith has formal training as an artist — he was one of the first BFA students at UNH, back in 1973 — he said a lot of what he knows he taught himself. The major was new at the time, and in lots of his classes, he was granted plenty of freedom.
“The sculpture teacher at the time was less formal and very open,” Smith said. “For example, I think he said things like, ‘These are cutting torches. This is how it works. We’ve got some chisels, and you can weld. Come back at the end of the semester with 10 sculptures.’”
Smith gravitated, very early on, toward abstract art.
“Abstraction was always more like a blank page, where you could find your own voice. It wasn’t like I was reproducing something that already existed, that you could take a picture of. That just never really  motivated me that much,” Smith said.
He stuck around Durham two more years to work as a university sculpture technician, which allowed him time to figure things out. Like, how do you get your name out there?
“I didn’t even know what a portfolio was. Nowadays, most art schools, they really focus on that. What are you going to do? How are you going to present yourself? It’s so different,” Smith said.
While Smith had sold a few pieces while in school, he also became a carpenter shortly after graduating. With the money he made there, he bought five acres of land in Northwood, built a tiny house and studio, and worked on his art whenever it rained or he was between jobs.
To survive as an artist, he saved money by learning to do everything himself — plumbing, electric, building and, for his art career, networking, marketing and photography, to help sell work. 
He said his art has evolved over the years. He’s constantly trying to do the unexpected with the materials at hand, and in some of his pieces, Disston thinks the result is an apparent weightlessness. The challenge still captivates him.
“[The material] is what motivated me and made me fall in love with it, really,” he said. 

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