Dolph Smith: Lift

Published On 07/11/2011

Location: Le Bonheur Club Resource Center
Underwriting Cost: $75,000

Smith’s second piece tells the Le Bonheur story with intricate detail. The collection of miniature displays titled “Lift” illustrates unique elements of the hospital that promote healing. A series of patient-room renderings are lifted by a bundle of balloons, a nod to the hospital’s foundation. When the first hospital was opened half a century ago, the ladies of the Le Bonheur Club tied keys to balloons and floated them away to represent that no child would be turned away from care, regardless of ability to pay. The miniature rooms displayed in “Lift” are composed of hand-made, found and collected materials including wood, paint, watercolor and altered works.Balloons

One of the scenes in Smith’s illustration is of a set of keys tied to strings. Another of a patient room contains miniature bed sheets and a pillow sewn from an original founder of the Le Bonheur Club, which began as a sewing circle to provide clothes for orphans.

“The story was already there,” said Smith. “As an artist, you have to recognize what you are working with and respect it. It was really a two-way street, and this happened because of what was already in place in the hospital.”

Smith added personal touches to many of the scenes. A focal point of one playground scene is a ladder—an often occurring element in his work. The ladder is meant to represent the uplifting of one’s spirits, a bright spot to counter the empty, isolated feel of the playground.

Viewers are invited to look closely at the installation to find hidden treasures. In the scene with an art cart, two of the miniature drawings were created by Smith’s grandchildren. His signature is found on the small painting near the window of the scene. The blanket in one patient-room rendering was sewn by Smith’s wife, Jessie.

“This (piece) takes a while to play itself out,” said Smith. “Just as you don’t grasp a book just by looking at it, healing doesn’t happen in an instance. It happens over time.”

Le Bonheur’s Bunny Tunnel special place where patients are invited to pick out a toy before surgery, is represented in the piece. The paper airplanes in the scene came from a teacher at Berclair Elementary School who was mentioned in the Commercial Appeal for encouraging her students to learn from activities they enjoy. Smith read the story about how, instead of scolding two youngsters for flying paper airplanes during a lesson, their teacher asked them to enlighten the rest of the class and carried out a new lesson in measurements. Smith contacted the teacher on a whim and ended up with a few signature airplanes from the experts of a kindergarten class.

Of the 13 renderings, several salute the early years of volunteerism at the hospital. The miniature of a woman in a 1950s style hat is actually a representation of a Le Bonheur Club founder. Doctors, nurses and construction workers are silhouetted to honor the people who built the building. And from the red wagons to the Tender Loving Care (TLC) room where babies are rocked to sleep, each detail is ripe with meaning. A final tribute to the Le Bonheur Club, whose history inspired Smith immensely, can be seen with the signage in one of the rooms:

Sew, Sew, Sew your Bolt
Gently down the seam,
Merrily, Merrily, Merrily,
Le Bonheur is a dream!

Smith was born in Memphis and now lives about an hour outside of the city in Ripley, Tenn. He taught at Memphis College of Art for 30 years, first in painting and drawing. Later, he fashioned a hand-papermaking and book arts program called “The Flying Vat.” He retired in 1995 and was elected Professor Emeritus. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from Memphis College of Art.

Smith has more than 1,200 works in collections nationally, as well as in Japan and China. He has been featured in Surface Design Journal, Hand Papermaking, The Complete Printmaker and was profiled with nine other American bookmakers in The Penland Book of Handmade Books. Despite the wide recognition, his heart has always remained close to home.

“Working with Le Bonheur has been a pleasure,” said Smith. “This has truly been a highlight of my career.”


If you would like to inquire about underwriting this or any of the other pieces in the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital Art Collection, please call the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital Foundation at 901-287-6308.