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Sam Fontenot: Inside the Artist’s Studio

Takin’ A Ride On Heavy Metal – Artist’s Bliss

By Derrick White

“Is the blacksmith a big, jolly guy who only gets mad when somebody burns down his barn?” This is a line from the film “Rustlers’ Rhapsody,” a 1985 western parody written and directed by Hugh Wilson and a highly underrated comedy. In a poke at 1960’s Spaghetti Westerns’ predictability – all horse opera towns are the same. Good guy Rex O’Herlihan (“The Singing Cowboy”) converses, “This town’s no different. The sheriff is stereotypical and so is the saloon owner with his mustache. Do you have a very pretty, but somehow asexual, new schoolmarm? Is the newspaper run by an idealistic young journalist who’s hocked everything to buy his first press?” The formulaic town drunk replies, “Oh, wait! I know one thing this town has the others don’t! None of the other towns have…” “The railroad coming through?” says another patron. The stunned drunk gasps, “All western towns have the railroad coming through.”

If you look around our East Texas area, it seems like every town these days has a downtown revitalization project underway. One prevalent strategy is to focus on the arts and locally-owned businesses. Local Tyler artist and modern day blacksmith Sam Fontenot is a strong participant and advocate for both. Sam is a big, bearded, jolly guy and so full of passion, optimism, and collaboration, I don’t think he ever gets mad.

“I have always studied art, whether painting or building. I became a tattoo artist through a traditional one-year apprenticeship, and I was a practicing professional tattoo artist for almost nine years. While tattooing, I began blacksmithing metal as a D.I.Y. sideline. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to spend some time with a master blacksmith and learned a great deal about handcrafting tools. Slowly but surely I gained the knowledge and confidence to step out and become a full time metalsmith,” states the artist.

Sam works primarily in steel and copper. He will often use wood and glass in projects, especially in furniture pieces. Sam also paints and does printmaking, sometimes adding linoleum print images (a relief printmaking process similar to woodcuts) to his works. In our digital, disposable, insatiable consumption world, Sam is carrying on a dwindling but enduring tradition and vital skill set.

A blacksmith is a metalsmith forming or altering objects from steel, copper, or iron by shaping the metal, using tools striking, bending, and cutting. Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, railings, fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, weapons, and decorative and symbolic items. Generally, blacksmiths have knowledge of how to make and repair metal objects both large and small.

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“I have always been interested in the artisan crafts; my grandfather was a woodworker and tinkerer,” Sam said. “He taught me the value of working with my hands and being creative. I love to work with vintage tools to do modern work. A lot of the processes in metalsmithing have not changed much in hundreds of years. My shop is full of tools close to or possibly older than a hundred years; the rest are reproductions made by myself or other tool makers who carry on the craft.” Sam continues, “I take a great sense of pride in creating a piece of artwork with my own two hands that has the potential to last for generations after I am gone. Also, I have been lucky enough to earn my living as an artist for the better part of my adult life.” Artist bliss.

One of the hardest parts about being a full-time artist, or for any imaginative professional, is staying creative and fresh and, of course, financial income.

“My day to day is filled with making smaller items, which helps me pay the bills, things like bottle openers, fireplace tools, and barbecue sets. I try to find new styles for these items to make them uniquely my own creations,” Sam said. “I also have my passion projects. I am currently getting into lock making. I hope to be proficient in forging and designing locks during the coming year.”

Sam is inspired by a range of artists and original individuals. He says, “My favorite artists aren’t the classics by any means. I love the makers, innovators, and practical artists.”

One of his early heroes was Ed (Big Daddy) Roth (key 50’s – 60’s California artist, cartoonist, illustrator, custom car designer, and builder who created the hot rod cartoon icon Rat Fink). Sam found his automobile creations fascinating. Another major influence is the blacksmith Sam learned his craft from, Brian Brezeal (Mississippi blacksmith who began forging as a Farrier – a specialist in horseshoeing).

“Brian Brezeal is one of the best tool makers of our time. His ‘forge to finish’ methods are the ones I use daily,” states this protégé.

Lastly, Sam mentions Adam Savage (American designer and special effects fabricator, and educator from “MythBusters”).

“Talk about a craftsman and multi-talented builder; Adam Savage’s creations inspire me to learn and overcome obstacles,” Sam said. “Adam is also a huge driving force for the makers’ movement.”

Sam is currently in the midst of remodeling a shop/studio with his business partner Brad Brown. They will operate a cooperative space with a studio workshop where they will both be building and designing daily. The space will also maintain a retail side for sales. They are hoping to house other local talent in the shop as well as their own creations. The shop “Wood and Metal Works” will be a unique local experience where one can actually come by, check out the show room, and watch these talented artists work on projects and see the unique and hypnotic processes in action. Sam adds, “I hope to be able to offer workshops on basic blacksmithing by summer for anyone interested.”

For more info or to get in touch with artist and contemporary blacksmith Sam Fontenot, find him on Facebook or go to

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“David Bates: Selected Works from Texas Collections” on Exhibit


This Month at Tyler Museum of Art:

The Tyler Museum of Art (TMA) is located at 1300 S. Mahon Ave. on the Tyler Junior College main campus. Regular TMA hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, and 1-5pm Sunday. The Museum is closed Mondays and most major holidays. The Museum is supported by its members, Tyler Junior College, and the City of Tyler. For more info call the museum at (903)595-1001,, or email

David Bates, one of the most acclaimed artists in Dallas, is the focus of Tyler Museum of Art’s summer exhibition, “David Bates: Selected Works from Texas Collections” on view through September 9th.

Curated by the museum’s Caleb Bell, the exhibition features close to 30 works surveying the prolific career of Bates, one of the most versatile and widely collected contemporary Texas artists. Spanning art from 1982 to 2016, works in the show highlight several of Bates’ most celebrated series and include a wide array of media: oil painting, lithographs, woodcuts, screenprints and bronze sculpture. The show was assembled from art in public and private collections throughout the state, including the museum’s own permanent collection. Bates’ work is widely exhibited and included in several museum and corporate art collections.

Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for seniors. Museum members, students, TJC faculty/staff and city of Tyler employees are admitted free. Support for exhibit is provided by The Byars Foundation.

Creativity Camps

Through August, close to 70 kids ages 7-13 and older dive into hands-on art experiences in a series of half-day and full-day camps. Each session is supervised by degreed artists and educators, and culminates with a small exhibition of campers’ work and a community reception.

Camps are held Monday-Friday (9am-4pm) for ages 6-12. Cost is $40 per day or $175 per week. To register online, fill out a form available at

  • July 9th-13th: Upside-down and Backward – Everything looks different from a fresh perspective. Drawing underwater, painting with spaghetti, there’s no telling what will happen when you change the way you make art. This camp is all about real creativity, and young artists will help brainstorm up new, exciting projects all week long.

  • July 16th-20th: Beachcombers’ Paradise – Love the seashore but hate sunburns and foot-scorching sand? Come explore marine environments through art. Biology, art, and fun merge into one great experience as you learn about the weird, wonderful world of sea life and environments, and express new knowledge through art.

  • July 23rd-27th: 5 Days Away from Rose City – Some of the country’s greatest artists call the Lone Star State home. At this camp, you will explore the geographical regions of Texas and the artists who gain inspiration in them, ending up right here in East Texas.

Family Days

Free admission, interactive art projects, light snacks and a festive atmosphere for all ages are on the menu from 2-4pm the second Saturday of each month with the Tyler Museum of Art’s Family Day. This popular program focuses on fostering a deeper understanding of the Museum’s spotlight exhibitions – and, above all, having fun! To RSVP for groups of 10 or more, please call (903)595-1001 or e-mail

First Friday

The first Friday of each month, the TMA offers a full day of free admission plus guided tours of its spotlight exhibitions at 11am. From contemporary Texas art to Hudson River School to Andy Warhol, each tour is unique.


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Art Events Warming Up For Summer

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Events & Classes

Every Wednesday (6-8pm) and Sunday (1-3pm) – Acrylic Painting Classes will be held at Michael’s, 5839 S. Broadway, Tyler. Cost is $15. Topics include landscapes, life, and floral. To RSVP go to and select the Tyler location. This class features master classic painting techniques while completing an image selected by the Instructor. Supplies are not included.

First Saturday of every Month (10am-2pm) – Eastside Fiber ARTist Meeting – The monthly meeting will be held at the Tyler Public Library, 301 S. College Ave, Downtown Tyler on July 7th. Please join the monthly meetings and participate in a variety of fiber arts from quilting, weaving, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, jewelry making, and mixed media and tons more. Guests and visitors are always welcomed. For more info go to It is free to attend.

July 10th and 24th (both days 3-5pm and 6-8pm) – Painting on the Patio at Rotolo’s – Lauren O Neill has created a one of a kind painting and is hosting a painting session at Rotolo’s! Invite your friends, sip your favorite beverage, and enjoy step-by-step instruction with Lauren an experienced and enthusiastic local artist. You’ll leave with a one-of-a-kind creation and a new found talent you’ll want to explore. All painting supplies are included. Tickets are $35. Rotolo’s is located at 8970 S. Broadway, Tyler. For more info go to

July 12th (10am-1pm) – John Randall York Watercolor Workshop – Come out for this fun workshop! Bring your paper, brushes, paint and ambition to capture some downtown, iconic scenes in watercolor. To register, email or call (903)593-6905.

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Inside the Artist’s Studio: I Think I’m Goin’ to Katmandu

The Therapeutic Creations of Stephanie Smith

By Derrick White

“Art as therapy demonstrates the profound healing potential of using the creative process. Art as therapy appears to be as old and continuous as human culture with decorated artifacts existing from prehistoric civilizations to now. It manifests in active form through the artist’s opportunity for self-expression and in receptive form through the response of the viewing audience. The artist’s experience of creating a meaningful work of art and the audience’s capacity for recognizing its meaning can lead to a multitude of healing responses including increased positive influence, relaxation, catharsis, social cohesion, and strengthened spirituality. The creative process can also act as an analgesic for artists who experience a lessening of physical pain while making art. Creating art can be a largely unconscious process providing a window into the mind of the creator. Through an analysis of visual elements such as the placement of an image on the page, the colors, type of lines created, the use of space, the number and integration of drawn items, and the apparent movement of the image, a psychologist, art therapist, or other trained professional can assess the emotional state of a person, provide counseling, and monitor the progress of the person through analyses of subsequent works produced.” – from an article by Tobi Zausner, PhD, on a web site dedicated to the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

When I experience the artwork of local artist Stephanie Smith (aka Steph Renea), I physically feel a release of tension, and I am metaphysically transported into her rich and subtle, seemingly simplistic, yet intricately complex, abstract compositions of color, shape, and line with their geometric elements. They are powerful and understated. It is a mental remedy for the chaos of the world. I would encourage you to experience this sensation as well. You can find Stephanie and her art popping up here and there around town at different art and Downtown Tyler community events from True Vine Brewing Company, 903 Handmade, and The Foundry Coffee House.

Stephanie graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art Studies. “I took a wide range of studio classes such as fibers, screen printing, watercolor, figure drawing, and sculpture. I learned a lot of skills in those studio classes I still use today,” states the artist. Smith works with a variety of different materials from acrylic paints, pens, pencils, watercolors, and occasionally embroidery thread. Most pieces are on watercolor or mixed media paper but the artist enjoys painting on canvas as well. Stephanie says, “The media I use is not always the same for each piece. I typically start with the material I feel will best represent the idea I have in my mind and then I add to the piece from there.”

Some of Stephanie’s artistic inspirations include: Heather Day (California-based artist making abstract interpretations between what is known and how it is felt. This artist seems to have the strongest direct influence on Smith’s own work), Chuck Close (painter, famed as a photorealist through his massive-scale portraits), Ron Mueck (amazing, hyper-realistic, super detailed sculptor), Georgia O’Keeffe (painter of enlarged flowers, skyscrapers, and Southwest landscapes, recognized as the “Mother of American modernism”), and Ben Sasso (hip, photographer and educator who lives with his lady in a van down by the river).

“I have always enjoyed the arts. I grew up dancing and was always interested in photography. I would draw and paint occasionally as well. It was after spending time in Nepal I discovered my love for teaching. So I decided to combine these two loves, art and teaching. After starting at the University of North Texas I learned I really loved exploring in my studio classes and staying late into the night painting or screen printing. After college I took a short break from creating physical pieces and started work as a wedding photographer and started a family. I still painted whenever possible and was asked for a commissioned piece for an album my church was putting out. I had a small art show at a friend’s house. But still at this point, I never really considered myself an artist. I just really enjoyed making art and hoped people liked it. In 2016, my life changed drastically and I moved back to Tyler. It was then I rediscovered my love for making art and really pursued being a full time artist. Since then, I have been in art shows, and artist markets (or pop ups), and I have started selling my work on a professional level,” enlightens Smith.

She continues, “Art has been my therapy. It has easily been the best way for me to decompress and really process my emotions. Since most of my work is repetitive shapes and loose brush strokes it is easy for me to find a rhythm. It is in this rhythm I am able to find clarity and peace of mind. Many times I have broken down crying as I recall certain events in my life during this process. It is in these moments I find myself releasing the pain and replacing it with joy and healing. I am so thankful for art and how it has played a large role in my healing.”

Stephanie has some advice for those daunted by the impulse to pursue a creative, artistic life. “The most frustrating thing about being an artist I think would be with me. I have been working on moving past my own insecurities and doubts when it comes to my art. Working through those things is not always easy but most times it leads to my best work. So although it is frustrating at times it is well worth it,” avows Stephanie. I could not agree more. Find yourself a creative outlet. Use art as therapy and a remedy for all life throws at you. Let your imagination and creative processes allow you to overcome your own insecurities and self-doubt. Enjoy the ride and have some fun or just go spend a little time in Nepal and report back.

To find some original art work, art prints and cards, check out the following:

Stephanie will also take custom orders so if you see something you like and want to personalize it, shoot her a message and collaborate.

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