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Joseph Smith
Salon No. 9

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Holy Trinity Church,
Skipton, North Yorkshire, England

Digital image courtesy of Holy Trinity Church

Two works believed to be by Joseph Smith— Royal Arms and The appearance of the Angel to the Shepherds of Bethlehem—were found cited in a few old documents as part of the ancient Church of the Holy Trinity in Skipton, N. Yorkshire, in England. The beautiful old church—referred to as "the church at the top of the High Street"—is located next to the likewise famous Skipton Castle. The church dates back to the 1100's originally; it has been rebuilt and modified over the centuries.

Although two of the three 19th Century publications refer to these two works as done by George Smith rather than Joseph Smith, they are most likely by one and the same. Part of the reason the error may have occurred is because Joseph Smith rarely used his first name when signing his works. He did usually put the date and often appended his name with 'Pyrographist'.

Following is an excerpt from the 1882 book History of Skipton by William Harbutt Dawson that cites Joseph Smith's works on p. 155:
Upon the north wall, and immediately adjacent to the organ, is a painting of the Royal Arms. It is signed "Smith, 1798." I have come across an entry in an old churchwardens' book relating to this ....

This George Smith was a native of Skipton. As a "poker-painter" he earned great fame, and his works now bring high prices. In addition to the "King's Arms," Smith executed the burnt painting which occupies the upper portion of the tower arch, and thus divides the bell chamber from the church. The subject is "The appearance of the Angel to the Shepherds of Bethlehem." It is worked on sycamore. Smith executed this work in 1806, and received twenty guineas for it. When the churchwardens agreed with the artist, they made it an important condition that the painting should be "finished before the next Visitation."

Following is a second excerpt from the 1891 book Through Airedale from Goole to Malham by Harry Speight that cites Joseph Smith's works on p. 236:
Over the gallery is a curious 'poker paint,' burnt on sycamore wood, representing the "Angel and Shepherds of Bethlehem." It is the work of a native artist named George Smith, who also executed in 1798 the painting of the Royal Arms hung above the sedillia.

Following is a third excerpt from the 1883 book Excursion....Programme & Arrangements by Yorkshire Archaeological Society that cites Joseph Smith's works on p. 4:
In the Gallery, filling the opening of the tower arch, is a poker painting, by one Smith, the subject of which is, the Angels appearing to the Shepherds, announcing the Birth of our Lord.

A recent inquiry revealed that only one of these two works is still there in Skipton's Holy Trinity Church. That work is the 1798 work entitled Royal Arms. Unfortunately, according to church personnel, no one in recent memory recalls the 1806 work entitled The appearance of the Angel to the Shepherds of Bethlehem and they offered no record of its whereabouts.

UPDATE—November 2011: Joseph Smith of Skipton is a research travelogue offered by collector John Hague, who travelled to Skipton to learn more about the elusive and prolific artist who signed his works "Smith, Pyrographist." It includes a picture of Smith's studio over the Skipton castle gate.

If you have either any questions or any information regarding these Joseph Smith works or others by this artist, please e-mail
the E-Museum Curator.

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© 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.
Updated 9 November 2009. Last updated 30 November 2011.