This theme, and the related pages, takes inspiration from the life and work of James Smetham, whose bicentenary falls in 2021.Smetham was a Victorian artist, poet and critic whose commitment to Methodism played a vital part in his creative, social and inner life. (See below: Who was James Smetham? ) The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) is marking Smetham’s anniversary with a programme of events that not only examine his artistic legacy but also reflect on the theme of mental wellbeing as it unfolded in his life. An online exhibition prepared by the centre offers an excellent introduction to Smetham the artist:

The Rose of Dawn: an introduction to James Smetham (image left)

Here on Singing the Faith Plus, we feature some ways in which Smetham’s approach to art and drawing might inspire ideas to help us in our own worship and personal reflection:

The God of Small Things

We have also picked some of the hymns in our hymn book that reflect themes in Smetham’s life:

God in all our encounters

Mental Wellbeing

Striving for perfection

Seeking healing



Who was James Smetham?

James Smetham was born in 1821 in Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire. His father, uncle and brother were all Wesleyan Methodist ministers and James himself was a Methodist class leader.  His faith was key to both his visual art and to his writing. 

He became a friend of the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin, and was appointed Drawing Master at Westminster College, then a training institute for teachers for Wesleyan Methodist schools. Here, he met his wife, Sarah.  

Smetham’s prolific visual ‘squarings’ (postage-stamp-size pen and ink drawings) annotate his personal bible and hymn book, recording his daily activity both in celebration of and search for God’s blessings. His mental health, which was always fragile, collapsed around 1877; for the last two years of his life, he did not speak. He died in February 1889.

The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History has prepared a chronological account of James Smetham’s early life (1821-1851) through his own words, and those of the people that knew him.