Rabbi Zalman Wircberg had never heard of Tremain Smith when someone attending an exhibit at the Old City Jewish Art Center said they weren’t interested in that exhibit, however, they would be interested if he brought in Tremain Smith’s work. When he told someone else he was considering putting a few of Smith’s pieces in a group show, the Rabbi said he was told that he should give her a solo exhibition. This happened just before he was about to visit Smith’s studio and he decided to do more research about her and came upon her writing and “Art of Grief” paintings. Rabbi Wircberg said it struck a raw nerve. “My mom had just passed, just less than a year ago. And she was battling, fighting cancer for eight years,” Wircberg said.
Rabbi Wircberg was also contemplating how to commemorate the first anniversary of his mother’s transition, for his community and for others.
When Wircberg spoke to Tremain Smith, he said he’d seen her writing and paintings that described her grief and her journey back to joy, and was interested in exhibiting them. A few days later, he realized that the anniversary of his mother’s passing was the same time they were contemplating the exhibit and it all came together for him. “ I just stood there and my soul left my body for a few minutes,” he added.
An exhibit of the art and poetry of Tremain Smith is featured at the Old City Jewish Arts Center 119 N. 3rd Street in Philadelphia. It features her works on paper, with accompanying grief-inspired poetry that was created after the death of her mother, Susan Smith, in 2015. Tremain moved in with her mother in the last year of her mother’s life and cared for her in her home while she was on hospice.
“I’m telling my story of love, and dying, and death, and grief, and living,” Smith said.
In describing her grief paintings, Tremain Smith said her paintings were a way to move energy. “The way I looked on it after a while was like a river and I called it the river of grief. And that was my metaphor that worked for me in this whole process. Because, I could not change what was happening. I could only go with it,” she said.
This is not the first time Tremain Smith has shared some of her grief paintings. She showed eight of the paintings with their associated poetry in Penn Medicine Hospice’s booth at the Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts Festival. Tremain’s collaboration with Penn Medicine Hospice started with her enrollment in their bereavement support program and culminated in her becoming a volunteer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
It’s also not her first time exhibiting in Old City. Smith was represented for years by the former Rosenfeld Gallery on Arch Street, around the corner from the Old City Jewish Art Center.
The Old City exhibit, The Art of Grief and What Follows, will feature her grief paintings and those documenting her progression from grief to healing. Her writing comes from journals she kept through her grieving process as well as from the two-step process of responding to paintings with writing that she currently uses. “As I moved through the rawest grief, I began making artwork about re-engaging with my spirit. So after I finished a piece, I would write something while looking at it,” Smith explained.
Smith will lead an art and writing workshop in conjunction with the exhibit on Sunday, May 19, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a closing reception with a poetry reading on Wednesday, May 29, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through June 1. All events are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Tremain Smith lives in Philadelphia and is best known for her abstract encaustic art, which has been exhibited nationally, and is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This exhibition is underwritten by Penn Medicine at Home, which includes Penn Medicine Hospice, Penn Medicine Home Health, Penn Home Palliative Care, and Penn Home Infusion Therapy.