Finding the Sand in our Souls
Artist Vernon Smith’s Work Touches the Heart
On August 14, 1945, Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the iconic image of Victory over Japan Day: a sailor in Times Square sweeping a dental assistant into his arms, and kissing her. The cover image captivated the nation: Strangers celebrating that major turning point for a world that had been at war for years.
With a Leica camera, four shots were taken yielding one image that resonated with a nation awash with relief.
As celebrating citizens across the nation flooded huge city squares, tiny town centers and neighborhood streets, artist Vernon Smith joined others in Orleans center, where he took in jubilation at the crossroads of his hometown, a town he loved. He later captured the joyous chaos of that August day creating VJ Day Orleans, an oil on board painting. The picture features a conga line of people circling the center of the intersection, sidewalks crowded with residents, many of color. In all likelihood a nod to Eisendstaedt’s image, a sailor stands in the lower center, kissing a woman in a nurse’s uniform.
“I’m sure it was intentional,” Smith’s grandson Dan Joy says with a smile. “He probably worked on the painting over that winter [after VJ Day] after seeing the cover of Life.”
This painting, in many ways, represents Smith himself—small town existence on the one hand, a sense of place, time and history on the other. Smith, Joy points out, was “a fine artist and a commercial artist, a town artist and a regional artist.” His lasting appeal lies in a classic interplay of small, daily moments and their profound meaning within the larger realm of universal themes.
“A lot of his work shows the day to day events here of the thirties and forties,” Smith’s granddaughter Jenny…
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