Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Meet the 2021 H. Stanley Liddell Award honorees


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published December 30, 2020

Whatzup presents the H. Stanley Liddell Award to individuals who have made a uniquely significant contribution to the arts and culture of Fort Wayne and surrounding communities. The award is named for H. Stanley Liddell, the founder of Piere’s entertainment center and first recipient of the award (then simply called “Special Achievement Award”) in 2001. Liddell passed away in February 2013, but it was his early support of Whatzup when it began publishing in 1996 that allowed it to prosper and grow in those early years.

This year, two recipients join the ranks of Liddell Award honorees, Derek Reeves, principal violist for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and Jody Hemphill Smith, co-owner of Castle Gallery. Whatzup congratulates and thanks both winners for their multiple contributions to the city’s artistic growth.

Derek Reeves Principal Violist, Fort Wayne Philharmonic

As a young child growing up in Indianapolis, a musical future seemed preordained for Derek Reeves. 

Since his mother was a violinist, as was his paternal grandfather, Reeves began playing the violin when he when he was two years old, something he says was in his DNA. 

After earning a scholarship to study at Indiana University’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music, Reeves continued to play the violin but eventually came to think it might not be the perfect fit for him. 

Literally.

Switching to the viola

“I didn’t start playing viola until after college,” Reeves said. “I’ve never really stopped playing violin, but I was just never as comfortable physically with the violin. When I picked up the viola, I was much more comfortable.”

He gained insight into that conversion by reading Body, Mind, and Sport by John Douillard, providing him a perspective not addressed in his own education.

“That book helped me to crystalize the experiences I had, but it’s not something that’s addressed in modern pedagogical settings — the physicality of playing an instrument.”

For a time, Reeves freelanced with orchestras and ensembles, playing both violin and viola. 

He then auditioned for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic on viola in 2003 and won a spot with the orchestra. The following year he auditioned and earned the position as Principal Violist. He has augmented that work with a spot in the Alicia Pyle Quartet and a variety of Philharmonic ensembles. 

UNiting with Marshall

He has also worked extensively with Marshall White and the Voices of Unity.

“I met Marshall in 2004 when I had just begun teaching at what was then IPFW,” Reeves said. “After I was done teaching one day, I was practicing in a room in the CM building, and Marshall came in for a rehearsal he had scheduled after mine. We introduced ourselves, and I told him I had just started playing with the Philharmonic. We just hit it off.”

White began showing him some Voices of Unity performances, and Reeves said he “was just blown away” by the caliber of talent in the choir and the band. But Reeves had a suggestion for White: to consider adding orchestration to the program.

“I thought it would be great for them to add another performing element, and I offered to provide them with some string arrangements,” Reeves said. “He brought in some string players, and we’ve been working together ever since. The more I’ve learned by working with Unity, the more committed I am to their mission. So many people come through the ranks there and become exceptional human beings.”

White, former recipient of the Liddell Award, presented this year’s award to Reeves.

“Derek Reeves is the essence of artistic excellence in various musical genres,” White said. “He is dedicated and committed to providing and producing the highest quality of music production. He is well-deserving of the recognition and honor he’s receiving.”

Style and substance

When asked what keeps his experiences in Fort Wayne’s musical community fresh, he named two main reasons.

“One, I have an insatiable musical curiosity and love multiple styles and genres of music,” Reeves said. “Two, there is an incredible depth of talent and of talented individuals in this city. 

“I’ve traveled all over the world, and there are people who think Indiana is a flyover state or that if it’s not in Indianapolis, it can’t be artistically excellent. Musically, Fort Wayne is as good as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Chicago in terms of gifted musicians which are across the board in terms of genres. The depth of talent was the first thing that impressed me when I came here, and it’s enriched me tremendously.”

Jody Hemphill Co-Owner, Castle Gallery


For some young people, selling parents on the study of art in college can be a tough row to hoe. Jody Hemphill Smith had an entirely different experience.

“My grandparents were both art professors,” Smith said. “I was the youngest of four, and my mother was hellbent to make an artist out of one of the kids to carry on the tradition. My siblings weren’t interested so when I came home from the hospital, my room was already set up with an easel and art supplies.”

Some kids might see fit to rebel against such a strong influence. Smith was not one of those kids.

“I enjoyed it from Day 1,” Smith said. “I was glad I was in a home where it was not considered frivolous.”

Studying and teaching art

When it came time to choose a college, Smith headed to Ball State where she was very impressed with the art department. They also had a home economics department which allowed her to study interior design. Both of those have come in handy in the 25-plus years she and her husband Mark have owned the Castle Gallery, one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the city. 

The couple had met 25 years before they bought the gallery, and their years together have taken them to such notable places as New Orleans and Valparaiso. Yeah, the latter took some convincing at first, but once they made the move, things began to evolve for the couple.

“I had been teaching in New Orleans, painting on Jackson Square, then suddenly we were off to Valparaiso,” Smith said. “Mark said I could teach there, but I knew those kinds of jobs don’t just grow on trees. But I got lucky and landed an interview. While I was in the interview, Mark was sitting in the car outside, and when I returned, he asked how it went. ‘Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is they wanted to hire me but they said they couldn’t afford me. But the good news is that if I agree to teach for what they can pay, you can go to law school for free.’ That’s what sold us, although I probably would have accepted the pay they were offering anyway.”

Landing back in the fort

The couple later moved back to Fort Wayne where Mark Smith began practicing law, and Jody continued a teaching career that has included local schools like New Haven High School and Sunnymead Elementary School. 

At that time, what is now the Castle Gallery was the site of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and when the museum moved to its current location, the building was purchased and turned into condos. In 1995, it was back on the market.

“I told Mark that it was for sale, and he said, ‘Don’t get any ideas! We’ll buy that place when pigs fly.’ So I bought him a flying pig weathervane as a gift on the day we closed.”

Since that time, the Smiths have taken their collective skills in art, education, business, law, and interior design and put them to use in a way that has made the Castle Gallery “The Gem of the Midwest.” 

It has also given artists from all over the country a place to not just display their work, but put it in a setting which encourages the purchase of their pieces. Smith encourages visitors of the gallery to move the paintings from room to room, consider how it might look in their own homes. She treasures the opportunity to help artists get more exposure and to encourage area residents to make art a priority in their lives.

Sticking with Castle Gallery

Despite the joy that the Castle Gallery has provided as their home and their place of work, the Smiths had decided earlier this year to sell the building and put it on the market. But that plan has changed in wake of the pandemic and demonstrates her continued commitment to Fort Wayne and the arts.

“I feel like there’s a need right now,” she said. “So it may say that the building is for sale, but it’s not. With people doing work on their homes this year, it’s important to provide a place where people can get art for their walls. Art is the cherry on top of the cake, and it’s important. So we’re staying here and providing a place for people to come. There’s plenty of room, we’re all wearing masks. We welcome people to come in on Saturdays or by appointment. 

“I could have spent the last 25 years teaching, and I loved doing that and would have been happy. But I think what we’re doing here is important. We bring people in to see the art and to think about it, and I think we’ve been successful in doing that.”

Doug Driscoll, founder and retired publisher/editor of Whatzup and previous recipient of the Liddell Award, presented this year’s award to Smith.

“Boundless energy and creativity,” Driscoll said. “Combine that with artistic talent and incredible drive and determination, and you have someone capable of making a meaningful and lasting impact on a community and its culture. Thus, it’s an honor for me to recognize Jody Hemphill Smith as a recipient of this year’s as a recipient of this year’s H. Stanley Liddell award.”

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