Smith Studios exhibit brings 20th century Cumberland County back to life

Dave Mathieson
Published on September 5, 2012
Cumberland County Museum and Archives curator, Diane Shaw looks at one of the photos on exhibit at the museum. The portrait is of Stanley Royle and is Shaw’s favourite photo in the collection.

AMHERST – Cumberland County Museum and Archives hosts the opening night of the Smith Studio Photographic exhibit tonight at 7 p.m.

The exhibit focuses on the achievements of Ronald Smith and photographs taken by Smith Studios.

Smith Studios had locations in Amherst and Sackville, N.B., from the early 20th century to 1967, and the exhibit has more than 50 photographs highlighting the people and places of that era, and the photo techniques used at the time.

Edgar Smith founded the business in Sackville in 1911 when he purchased the RS Pridham Studio and renamed the studio in his own name. In 1926 his eldest son, Richard Smith, joined his father, and in 1930 Ronald Smith joined the family business.

“They made a significant contribution, not just to photography, but to the community as well,” said Diane Shaw, Cumberland County Museum curator.

Ronald Smith went on to help found the Cumberland County Museum in 1981.

As President of the local Historical Society, he successfully raised capital in the amount of $108,000 to purchase the home of Robert B. Dickey, a Father of Confederation, for the intended goal of providing a museum for the community.

“It’s Four Fathers month and I wanted Ron Smith to be recognized as the father of the Cumberland County Museum,” said Shaw. “He headed the historical committee that raised the money to buy this house for a museum.”

Photos at the exhibit came from the museum archives but also from Ron’s wife Kathleen, his daughter Marg E. Smith, and from collectors David Black and Fred Black.

“Some pictures are personal pictures from private collections, so they may be pictures people haven’t seen before,” said Shaw.

The exhibit opening will also features a presentation from Kathleen, and speeches by Marg and William Fairbanks of the Cumberland County Museum and Archives.

One of Shaw’s favourite portraits in the exhibit is of Stanley Royle, a photo that was taken in 1935.

“I like the composition of it,” said Shaw. “He looks very casual and, at the same time, he’s looking straight at you.”

Royle was an instructor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and a professor of drawing and painting at Mount Allison University.

Royle taught, and became a mentor to, Alex Colville, who went on to become one of Canada’s most well respected artists.

The exhibit also features many of Ron Smith’s diploma’s degrees and certificates, including his Photographic Craftsman degree from the Professional Photographers of America. Shaw said Ron was one of only four Canadian photographers to receive the degree. He was also a lifetime member of several photographic associations and community organizations, and he was the president of the Maritime Professional Photographers Association from 1942 to 1944, and from 1946 to 1947. He wrote publications for the association, which are also on display at the exhibit.

Edgar Smith was a demonstrator and salesman for the Canadian Kodak Company, so, “They were involved in new photographic techniques, and they talked about the latest technology and shared that technology,” said Shaw.