Skip to main content

Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Joe Smith (b. 1950)

A sculptor in slate, born in West Yorkshire, he learnt how to build drystone walls at the age of 11. From the age of 19, he began earning his living building functional drystone walls, but after noticing the increasing use of drystone walling as an art form, he decided to investigate its possibilities. Artists, he says, began to recognise ‘drystone walling as more than a means of keeping sheep out of the turnips – that it was beautiful. The art world started taking an interest in drystone walling, so I started taking an interest in art. It was a logical development in the skill.’ Since the mid-1990s he has turned his skill towards the creation of drystone sculptures, principally for gardens. Beginning with slate vases, he has expanded to include cones, spheres, obelisks, wine glasses, pears and chessmen. He collaborated with Andy Goldsworthy, 1989–93, in the UK, France, USA and Australia, a significant example of their work being Slate Hole Wall, 1990, in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Smith’s independent work includes Thrust and Tilted Globe, both 2001, Elphin, Highland, Scotland; Globe, 2004, in the grounds of Academy Gardens, Duchess of Bedford’s Walk, Kensington; and a trio of vases in Prince Charles’s garden at Highgrove. Recently he formed a business partnership with his daughter, Jenny, who, following a three-year apprenticeship, became a fully competent practitioner.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, p. 173; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 2, p. 490; Joe Smith website; ‘Joe Smith’, On Form Sculpture; Sommerville, C., ‘Slate sculptures a solid foundation for garden’, 17 November 2013, The Scotsman.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022