Garden State Surf & Art: Where Ideas Take Shape

BRO WITH THE FLOW: Terence (left) and Jim Smith are talented and hardworking artists and artisans. (Photos by Victoria Ford)

Jim and Terence Smith are brothers and business partners in Garden State Surf & Art, where they display and sell handmade goods and antiques, build custom art frames, collect reclaimed wood and raw materials – often demolished Cape Cod-style homes – and generally seek organic flow and balance in their busy, creative lives.

They are in the 1950s building that was once the Garden State Gas Station in the Beach Haven Crest section of Long Beach Township. They kept the old sign. A historic photo of the building, originally a Hess station, hangs above the cash register, a remnant of the golden age of cash registers.

Their dad has eclectic tastes, they said, so they’ve been exposed to cool stuff, antiques and abandoned treasures for a lifetime.

“We always choose, you know? said Jim.

Jim lives upstairs; Terence lives in West Creek. The store gives them a base to work on projects, manage orders and explore new ideas.

To transform a phrase, the brothers share “experience in making things happen”. Vision, talent, luck and a blatant lack of planning got them where they are meant to be.

Damaged by flooding during Super Hurricane Sandy, the service station was closed and the site cleaned up. The Smiths carried out repairs to the building for the previous owner in exchange for storage space, they explained. When the property became available, the brothers listened to the voice telling them to go.

“We are doers, not dreamers,” said Terence.

They had always envisioned opening a surf shop/gallery, Jim said. Initially – and it can still happen – they considered adding a cafe element.

They moved in and set up shop in 2014. They started with handmade surfboards, then branched out into making furniture and coats from reclaimed wood, including driftwood. These days they make more of the types of boards that ride the walls rather than the waves. They’re not rideable, but they’re salable, Jim added.

The gallery is filled with art, home decor, accessories and collectibles, estate jewelry and more. Much of the artwork was done by the Smith brothers, including photographs, drawings/paintings, and ceramics.

Their motto: “If you can’t find it, we build it!”

As a born carpenter who discovers the world with his hands, Jim has fashioned surfboards from local white cedar. He also played with pottery, an art form he finds grounded and revealing. Working with clay even made him see wood differently, he said, as a more malleable medium.

(Artwork by Terence Smith; photo source @gardenstatesurf on Instagram)

A gifted portrait painter, Terence draws the eyes of his subjects with an intensity all his own. He mixes mediums: graphite, pastel, watercolour. He went to Montclair State University for arts education and taught at Pinelands Regional for a year.

Surfing and fishing are the themes of their work, but much of their inspiration comes from their custom projects, with clients bringing the ideas to them, Jim said. Their custom work has allowed them to add wood mantels, accent walls and decorative wood elements to residential interiors.

They’ve built a portfolio on Instagram @gardenstatesurf, an account they try to keep up to date, though they admit that creative and constructive tasks come first.

“If we have an idea, we’ll try it, see what works, keep moving forward,” Terence said. Eight years later, it’s a business model that still works for them.

They yearn for an organic flow of making, resting and finding balance, they said. At the center of it all are the pursuits of patience and balance. Like in surfing, notes Jim. Just like in life, Terence added.

One of the coolest places in the store is the restrooms: the guys lined the walls with wood and ran a beam of soft yellow LED light around the perimeter; hung a funky woven wicker lamp above the sink, with a coordinating mirror; and placed a wrought iron towel rack.

Their aunt, Jo-Ann Bonczo, is the gallery manager and de facto marketing department — she gives them all their jobs, Jim laughed. She’s been known to say, “Sure, boys can do that!” Bonczo’s background in retail and antiques is the useful third leg of the Garden State stool.

The gallery’s opening hours begin this month, weekends first, then seven days a week in the summer. Watch one of Terence’s portraits come to life in a two-minute video made by Oak Leaf Media on surfgardenstate.com.

—Victoria Ford

victoria@thesandpaper.net