July 2014



A Smith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas

U.S. Highway 281 stretches from the Canadian border in North Dakota 1,800 miles south to the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas. There’s a piece along the way in Texas that serves as an alternative to the I-35 madhouse.

About an hour north of San Antonio, and equidistant from Austin, U.S. 281 cruises through Johnson City, county seat of Blanco County and boyhood home of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

It is in Johnson City, population 1,200, that Amanda Smith keeps her well-known gallery, host to a dozen juried exhibitions a year, as well as additional solo shows and exhibitions. As if that weren’t enough, Amanda has appropriated the big wall at Pecan Street Brewing for additional display space.

I first met Amanda shortly after she opened the gallery four years ago. Johnson City is now my official stopping place on the road from Wichita Falls to points south. Amanda has become a good friend, was on the scene at “shootapalooza, the experiment” in Port Aransas last February, and can whip up the best batch of brownies between the Brazos and the Rio Grande.

Judy Sherrod: How did you get HERE? What paths did you take, what streams did you ford, what mountains did you climb in order to get from Nederland, Texas, to A Smith Gallery in Johnson City? 

Amanda Smith: After over twenty years as a neatly ordered CPA I found photography waiting in my grossly untended garden of personal creativity. I was always attracted to the camera. Career and homemaking kept the camera waiting patiently until the time was right. In the year 2000 I moved to a twenty-five acre hilltop outside of Johnson City, Texas. The providential combination of my small town East Texas roots with my new wild Central Texas environment and a pinhole camera was powerful and life changing. The gallery became available four years ago and I couldn’t resist. I’m still a neatly ordered CPA, however now I am blessed with living surrounded by the images and kindred spirits that I love.



JS: The A Smith Gallery will be celebrating its fifth anniversary next year. You’ve seen a lot of “comings” and “goings” since its inception. What trends do you now see coming? What do you see going? 

AS: It’s been an exciting and very, very fulfilling four years. The gallery and the photographers and the reception we have gotten have exceeded all my expectations. Yes, we see a wide range of images. My exhibitions are all based on a single word/theme which obviously steers the content of the photographs. So, it would be hard to say that I have seen any consistent established trends in the approach to subject or technique. However, there are most definitely more and more folks entering great images taken with their IPhones. It is astonishing, the quality of many of the IPhone images we get. Because of the advent of digital photography, the photographic world is rapidly expanding and it will continue to surprise us. The darkroom has become, for most, an anachronism, yet there appears to be more and more photographers going back or pursuing alternative processes.

JS: You’ve recruited an impressive group of jurors over the past four years. They each see things differently and choose artworks based upon individual priorities. Is it possible to define differing styles of selection? If so, what do they look like? 

AS: I have been fortunate to have had everyone I asked to juror agree to do so – I was not expecting this. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect. When I was a beginning photographer entering calls for entry I was always a little intimidated by the many impressive jurors and their bodies of work and resumés. The encouraging and refreshing aspect of selecting, seeing their choices and getting to know many of them is the across-the-board sincerity and integrity they bring to the process. They truly care about the world of photography and their place in encouraging and validating photographers. A young photographer might be somewhat intimidated by a juror, however I can say to them from my experience that the jurors care as much about their choices as you do about your work. As far as styles of selection, I also think I can say that most jurors select work that uniquely approaches the subject of the exhibit and surprises them.

JS: The “emerging photographer” seems to be forced to support a “pay to play” economy. Everybody gets the money but the artist. The A Smith Gallery is part of the “pay to play” economy. As an artist as well as a gallery owner, how do you reconcile the two? 

AS: The gallery and everything about it has been a labor of love. I’ve truly never considered what we do here as part of the “pay to play” economy. Of course, I guess it could be described as such. As an artist I see “pay to play” as the system that encouraged and motivated me to develop my photographic and artistic skills and gave me accessible walls on which to hang my images. As a gallery owner I understand how difficult it is for emerging photographers to realize much monetary gratification from their work. However, I have seen all the positive effects that getting into one of my shows can have on journeyman photographers – having their image hang right next to an established, published photographer can be life changing. Over the past four years I’ve been able to follow the technical, artistic and personal growth of scores of emerging photographers. This process inevitably becomes personal for both myself and the artists – the genuine exchanges that I get via e-mail and especially at the receptions is what really makes this all worthwhile for me. I don’t know if I answered the question. What is the alternative?


JS: The gallery has a lot of things going on in Johnson City, Texas, right now. You’ve recently produced workshops by Tami Bone and Fran Forman. You are creating auxiliary exhibitions in the Pecan Street Brewhouse. You are working on a workshop space. What’s going on? Where do you expect to be five years from now? 

AS: We do have a lot of exciting things going on right now. The weekend spent with Fran and Tami and all the great photographers that attended the workshops and our reception was magical. We made a bunch of new friends. The highlight of the weekend for those attending the “Magic” reception was the “shootapalooza Art / Bar Airstream,” parked in front of the gallery, allowing anyone who wanted to to try their hand at making lumen prints. Everyone really had great fun with the assorted vegetable matter.

We are currently building-out a studio space for our encaustic workshops. It’s going to be a great funky studio environment to work in. We plan to make the photography workshops an important part of our gallery experience. We have also created an Art Wall in our local brewpub, Pecan Street Brewing, which is owned by our friends Patty and Tim Elliot. We are using this space to showcase local talent. Our first exhibit on the wall was a call for entry for images of Johnson City to use on the new city website, and the current show is the LBJ High School art students’ entries from this year’s state competition. It has been great to see the wonderful reception the work at Pecan Street has received. I want to use the Art Wall as a vehicle to promote art and the arts here in Johnson City and Central Texas . One of the kids with a piece up on the Art Wall now is headed to Parson’s School of Design this fall! I hope five years from now I will still be doing what I love. I received an entry last night from a young photographer that has been in one of my recent exhibitions. I believe she is going through a tough time right now. She brought her Dad into the gallery to pick up her piece from the previous show. It was so validating and sweet to see how proud her father was of her and how empowering this process can be. Photography, at least here at A Smith Gallery, is a family and it’s growing.


JS: Each and every A Smith Gallery opening features a selection of homemade home baked brownies. Give us your favorite recipe, please. 

AS: Well, the current favorite brownie recipe is Chocolate Caramel Covered Potato Chip Brownies. A chilled rosé pairs nicely with these crunchy salty babies.


For the Brownie Layer:

• 1 stick + 2 tbsp butter, melted
• 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 tbsp water
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 cup all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup high quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the Caramel Chocolate Potato Chip Layer:

• 14 oz. Kraft Caramel Bits + 3 tbsp water
• 9.5 oz package Hershey’s Baking Melts
• 4 cups Kettle Chips, Sea Salt flavor + 1 more cup for crushing and sprinkling on top


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare an 8×8 baking dish by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and lining with parchment paper (optional, but I like to do it so I can lift the brownies right out of the dish).
3. Pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and beat until smooth, almost creamy.
4. Add the salt, water, and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between each addition.
5. Add the flour and chocolate chips and mix well. Batter will be very thick.
6. Use a sturdy rubber spatula to spread batter in the 8×8 pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
7. Allow the brownies to cool for 10-20 minutes. Then use the bottom of a wooden spoon to poke holes all over the top of the brownies (this will help keep the caramel from squeezing completely out to the edges).
8. Pour the caramel bits in a medium bowl and pour the water over top. Microwave for 90 seconds or until melted completely. Pour over the brownies, aiming to fill the holes as much as possible.
9. Press 4 cups of the potato chips into the caramel. It’s ok to push them into the brownies some, no need to be delicate!
10. Heat the Hershey’s Baking Melts in the microwave for a minute, or until completely melted. Pour the chocolate over the top of the potato chips. Spread the chocolate evenly across with a rubber spatula – again, no need to be careful. It’s ok if chips get crushed, or the chocolate mixes with the caramel.
11. Crush and sprinkle the remaining cup of chips over the top of the chocolate. Serve immediately for completely warm, ooey gooey, and very messy brownies. Or let cool completely to allow the chocolate and caramel to firm up – which is a little less messy to serve.

JS: Describe your bathroom, for the benefit of those who’ve never ventured in. 

AS: My bathroom is a place of decorated birdcages – which probably says quite a lot about me personally. It is the most photographed restroom in Johnson City, maybe even in Texas.