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Life & Work with Rachel Smith

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Smith.

Hi Rachel, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My work, my art and my life have all been directly tied to my environment and storytelling.

I was born on the island of O’ahu to two hula practitioners and with a name that came to their kumu (hula mentor) in a dream. I grew up in Yosemite Valley and ate school lunch while staring at Yosemite Falls. I am a third-generation graduate of the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA. I have danced hula across the ocean on cruise ships, in opera houses, in the na pali mountains, and in the deserts of Burning Man. My feet in sand, grass, on laminate, tile, wood, cement, stage parquet, or rocks. I became a professional mermaid and fell in love with a professional pirate.

All of this is true. And all of this is strange.

And all of this is me.

I have illustrated children’s books and novel covers with my BA in Illustration. I have traveled the world teaching mermaid movement and swimming. I have been featured in documentaries and films and one of the first 360 degree underwater short films. I have been the Head Mermaid at the Dive Bar in Sacramento, CA since we opened our doors in 2011. At Dive Bar, I hire, train, and costume all merfolk staff, and perform in a 40 ft saltwater aquarium. I own and operate a business with my mother called Mermaid and Mom; we work events as mermaid characters and create custom mermaid costumes. I have cofounded, organized and ran the California Mermaid Convention, starting in 2019 and through two years of a pandemic. Our next convention will be in May 2022.

Looking back at the last ten years, it’s hard to explain, even to myself, what my career trajectory has been. Lodged somewhere between entertainer, artist, businesswoman and athlete. Somewhere between a love of nature and a love of fantasy. Somewhere either over the moon or under the water.

And always hungry for more.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The most difficult thing about any artistic career path is getting anyone to take you seriously. And also, making any money. Add a 25 lb silicone tail on top of that and a seashell bra, and it’s even harder.

I came into working at Dive Bar very green. I had never worked nightlife or around so many big personalities. I had no idea what opportunities and experiences the job would bring me and how much I would grow. I’m extremely grateful to the multiple owners and managers who had the patience to watch me learn. And to give me more and more opportunities to expand my role and skills.

And I still feel like I am learning.

And I still feel as though it is hard to get people to take me seriously.

But persistence is key. And believing in what you do is key. And fiercely working hard is key. And deeply loving what you do is key.

Every time I think I am burnt out, another spark ignites. And I can’t wait to bring more to the table.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
When I paint or draw or create art, I love to tell stories.

The same is true for dance or for my mermaid work.

Sequential art could easily describe any form of what I do. And a profound love of storytelling, of world-building and of character creation is the thread that ties it all together. If I am choreographing a hula, I am looking at the oli (chant or words) and interpreting that tale through movement. If I am creating an illustration, there are hours of research and writing behind each picture. If I am swimming as a mermaid, entertaining kids at parties, or doing an underwater photoshoot I know my background, what feeling I am trying to evoke, and what experience I want the audience to leave with.

I am most proud of the communities that I have helped to create. I am proud to have taught dance to so many and still be a student myself. I am proud to have given so many men, women and children the opportunity to have play and experience magic in their lives through my mermaid work at Dive Bar, through Mermaid and Mom and the California Mermaid Convention. I am proud to work with my mother through our business and my father through his halau (dance company). I am proud to earn my living and support myself through my artistry.

I am very proud to have followed through with an idea my fiancé had one night to make the California Mermaid Convention a reality. I am proud to have carried it through the pandemic, nearly working alone.

I feel what sets me apart is my dogged determination to get things done. I am nothing if not persistent and a bit stubborn.

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
What makes me happy is seeing my fiancé, friends and family do things they are very good at. I love to see the glow when they excel and when they achieve a new goal. I love to create costumes for them and for clients and see how they (the costume and the wearer) come to life in a new and perfect way. I love to create worlds for us all to exist in and adventures we will never forget.

Also tiny things like earl grey tea. When my fiancé reaches for my hand on a long drive. Very long baths with books and snacks. My hammock in the backyard. The very loud laughs of my mermaids at work or my hula sisters backstage. The smell of hot granite rock and the Merced River.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Scot Benton DD Photography Shelly Lange Photography CreationScape Photography Elisa Maenhout Honolulu Star

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