Creating a statue of the bull rider, Richard Smythe…by Bradley Harris, Smithtown Historian
Last Thursday, Cris Damianos invited me to join him on a trip into Brooklyn to visit the art studio where the statue of Richard Smythe is being created. Richard Smith and his sister Libby joined us on the early morning trip to Studio EIS which took us deep into the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. We parked along the bank of the East River within sight of the Statue of Liberty. We walked up 32ndStreet through a canyon created by six story industrial buildings until we found an entrance door marked No.68. We entered the building and rode the freight elevator up six floors and then walked into the studio where we were greeted by members of the Schwartz family – Ivan, his brother Elliot, and his sister Debra – the owners of Studio EIS. Entering the studio, our attention was drawn to a large clay statue that stood at the far end of the loft. As we approached, we became aware that we were looking at a statue of Richard Smythe. (See the photograph accompanying this article.)
A lot of people have had a hand in designing and creating this statue of the founder of Smithtown that will soon become a fixture in the center of town. It hasn’t been easy to design when you consider the fact that we know very little about the man Richard Smythe. We have no paintings of him, no descriptions of him, and very few personal objects have survived. I have always felt that he was a large man primarily because of his chair which is part of the Smithtown Historic al Society’s collection. The chair is actually the base of a tilt top table (that is missing its top) and has no back and a very wide seat. Only a very large man would find it comfortable. But the chair is rather flimsy evidence to support the view that Richard Smythe was a large man.
A much better way of determining Richard Smythe’s size and build is to take a look at his descendants. There are many Smiths living today who claim direct descent and many of them, that I have met, are large men, well over six feet tall, with stocky builds. The Smith family historian, Ned Smith, has attempted to determine Richard Smythe’s physical characteristics from DNA, and has had geneticists tell him that his great, great grandfather had DNA most like that of the bull rider. He stood well over six feet tall, as did Ned’s own father and many of his uncles. So it was decided early on that the statue would be of a man over six feet tall with a stocky build.
There were many other questions that had to be answered before artists could begin to bring the statue to life. What did Richard Smythe look like? What were his facial features? How did he wear his hair? What kind of clothing would he wear? How should he be pictured? What would he be doing? Fortunately, to answer these questions and many others, the Schwartz family, who own and operate Studio EIS in Brooklyn, are very experienced in creating historic statues. Having created images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin for national museums, they knew what questions needed to be answered and they knew how a life-size bronze statue would be created and cast.
Cris Damianos found Studio EIS when he began seriously considering the creation of a bronze sculpture of Richard Smythe. Having grown up in Stony Brook, where he attended and graduated from the Stony Brook School, Cris was steeped in the legends and lore of the Smith family. Even so, he never truly understood why Smithtown had a statue of a bull to commemorate its founding and not even a plaque to remember the man who actually made it happen. He decided that one day he would erect a statue in Richard Smythe’s honor and place it in the middle of town where everyone could see it and be reminded of the remarkable man who founded Smithtown in 1665. The opportunity to do just that came with the 350th anniversary of the founding of Smithtown.
After talking with his brothers about the idea of creating a statue of Richard Smythe and convincing them that an appropriate location for the statue would be in front of their building on the southeast corner of Route 111 and Main Street, the Damianos Realty Group agreed to fund the project. Cris was delegated to find a company that could create and cast a bronze sculpture of Richard Smythe. After meeting with several local historical experts, including Joshua Ruff and Neal Watson of the L.I. Museum, Kiernan Lannon from the Smithtown Historical Society, Richard Smith the Mayor of Nissequogue, and the Smithtown Historian, Cris decided that the project would be possible to achieve and he engaged Studio EIS to create the sculpture.
The Schwartz family invited Cris and a bus load of guests to visit their studio to see where and how the statue would be made. Then the Schwartzes came out to Smithtown to meet with Cris and interested parties to talk about Richard Smythe and his role in founding Smithtown. Through these meetings and the in-put they received from historians, the Schwartzes were able to determine many things about the image to be portrayed. Decisions were made about the size of the statue, about appropriate clothing, and how it should be posed. It was decided that the artist would use historic photos of Smith family descendants and create a composite image that captured Richard Smythe as he might have looked in March of 1665, clutching his newly won patent for the Nesaquake lands, and proudly pointing out to all the lands he had acquired. It was determined that he should be wearing a hat and cloak, and since this was a man who was banished from Southampton for refusing to doff his hat to the town magistrates, it was thought that his hat should be set securely on his head. With these instructions, the Schwartzes returned to their studio in Brooklyn and their artists went to work.
Jiwoong Cheh, the resident sculptor of Studio EIS, began the work of creating a life-size clay model of Richard Smythe. It was this clay model that we were invited to see last week. As you can see from the accompanying photographs, the artists and sculptor have done an incredible job of rendering Richard Smythe in clay. Only the hat and cloak have yet to be converted into clay. Once the clay model is completed, it will be shipped out to the foundry in Arizona where the clay statue will be magically transformed into a bronze statue and returned to Brooklyn. The Schwartzes will put the finishing touches on the statue, and by this time next year, September of 2015, the finished statue will be on its way to Smithtown just in time to be a part of the celebration of Smithtown’s 350 years of history.
So if all goes according to plan, the statue will be in place on its pedestal, ready to be unveiled and dedicated at 10 a.m. on the morning of September 19, 2015, just in time for all those participating in the Sesquarcentennial parade to see it in the middle of town reminding everybody that it was Richard Smythe, and not the bull, who founded the Town of Smithtown.
By: Bradley Harris, Smithtown Historian