Tuesday, September 15, 2009

William A. Smith: Condensed in '62

On a previous occasion when we were looking at some Sickles art from Reader's Digest Condensed Books, I received a note from Ferol Smith, the wife of the late William A. Smith. Ferol wrote, "One of these days I'm going to find other Reader's Digest Condensed Books illustrators; W.A.S. natch!! It was a great medium for some fine work by these artists."

So I was especially pleased when I stumbled across this particular volume... because W.A.S. did a remarkable twelve paintings for one of the stories therein.

I sent a note last night asking the members of the Smith family if they had any recollections of this job... for instance, how much time would the artists have had to paint all these gorgeous illustrations?

Eldest daughter, Kim, replied that she recalled her dad having about a month to complete the assignment - wow! - that's a lot of work to get done in just one month!

Especially when you consider the technical details and period costume Smith had to research and then render accurately.

Kim remembers her mom posing for the scene two above ( page 137 ) and adds, "I think it was also Dad in that painting."

* Addendum: A late note from Ferol Smith: "I'm 91,95,96, and 99. The tough looking old lady was a neighbor of ours and of the most kindly nature. She enjoyed a job with the local vet and worked with children during summer camp. Not so tough!"

As for the piece below, Kim writes, "It was [Kim's older brother] Rick and me."

She adds, "Rick looks exactly like himself, though I look a little more like Alice in that painting."

To be honest, the poor paper quality and small reproduction size can't possibly do justice to William A. Smith's paintings. They look this good in spite of the RDCB's shortcomings.

When I look at these I am reminded of the first time I laid eyes on a W.A.S. illustration -- and mistook it for Robert Fawcett's work.

And that in turn always makes me think of a great anecdote Charlie Allen recounted of the time he had dinner with Robert Fawcett and Haines Hall, who was Fawcett's brother in law and a partner in the SF art studio at which young Charlie Allen was working.

During a lull in the conversation at the table, Charlie, still very much a junior illustrator - and somewhat in awe of being in the presence of 'the illustrator's illustrator' nervously asked Fawcett if he knew the painter William A. Smith...

Charlie writes, "[Fawcett] did a double take, turned to Haines, and gesturing to me, said, 'who's this?' I think his actual words were 'who the hell is this?' Haines explained (I was the favored new kid on the block)."

Charlie continues, "RF reluctantly turned and said, 'yes, Bill is a good friend....and he's a fine painter'. He did not say 'illustrator'. That was the only conversation from him for the evening, with me at least. At the time I naturally was in awe of RF, but was also an admirer of Wm. A. Smith."

And we are in awe of Charlie Allen, who once again demonstrates the extent of his skills with another broad range of samples from his many years of service as a West Coast advertising artist. Go to Charlie Allen's Blog and check 'em out!

* My William A. Smith Flickr set.

* This post has been simultaneously published on Today's Inspiration.

Friday, July 24, 2009

William A. Smith's Coke Ads

You may recall seeing the Coke ad below in a previous post on William A. Smith, but that ad wasn't a one-shot job for the accomplished painter...

Smith's daughter, Kim, sent a scan of this great piece below, along with an amusing anecdote about what must surely have been one of her earliest professional modeling assignments:

"I was the model," wrote Kim, "along with my favorite stuffed animal (I still have it, and it is probably a poodle) whom I nevertheless called Lambsey-Dysey. After "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambsey dysey".

"The third model was a man on whom I had a huge crush, very handsome, named Bob I-can't-remember-his-last-name-but-will. He played a doctor, and I am about 3 1/2 years old. The version of the ad I have is in Spanish, though it was also probably in English somewhere here. My hair color, and Lambsey-Dysey's was changed for the painting to brunette!"

Recently a third William A. Smith Coke ad surfaced... this time in the form of a piece of original art up for sale at Heritage Auctions.

I sent a note around to the Smith family members alerting them to the sale. Kathlin Smith was the first to reply. She identified her older brother Rick as having posed for the role of the usher standing at far-right of frame in the middle distance. "It’s actually amazing how much he looks like a young version of my father," wrote Kathlin.

When I asked Rick Smith if he recalled anything about posing for this ad he replied, "It's me alright but I was an ADHD kid, hated keeping still for any length of time so I may have repressed that particular adventure."

Rick adds, "Thanks for your interest in dad's work. I still think he was vastly underrated/underappreciated/under-recognized."

* Thanks to Charlie Allen for providing the top scan, Kim Smith for providing the middle scan, and Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the bottom scan.

* My William A. Smith Flickr set

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Norman Kent Offers 'True' Praise for William A. Smith

"Some illustrators, although not necessarily pigeon-holed, are in demand for certain types of stories because of their special interests or experiences," writes Norman Kent in the September 1954 issue of American Artist.

"William A. Smith, for example -- Bill was with the O.S.S. in China for many months during W.W.II"

"While off duty he made hundreds of drawings of the Chinese people, their cities, towns, their countryside."

"He even learned to speak their language and he counts many Orientals, both here and abroad, his personal friends. He has made himself a natural for Oriental stories."

But this does not narrow his capabilities or his attractiveness as an illustrator for any kind of a story because his interests are universal and his experiences have been most varied. Several years ago Bill took himself off to Paris with his wife and children where he lived for two years. He devoted himself to easel painting both in oil and watercolor and out of this investment in study and independent work have come many prizes and honors."

"Part of the collection he brought home formed the basis for a large one-man show at the Toledo Museum of Art. Other pictures have won important prizes in national shows.

When in 1952 he was elected to the Academican's rank of the National Academy he was one of the youngest painters ever to have achieved this distinction."

"His most recent honor has an honorary Master of Arts Degree bestowed by the University of Toledo at its 1954 commencement."

"I cite Bill Smith's experiences at some length merely to point out the fact that the really accomplished artist has a rich and varied background to account for his continuing success as an illustrator."

Friday, April 3, 2009

How to read this blog

This blog was created so that the story of William A. Smith's career could be found all in one place. Below is the material previously published on the Today's Inspiration blog. To read these posts chronologically, begin with the post immediately below this one and scroll down. When you reach the bottom of the page, continue by clicking "Older Posts". New posts will be added intermittently and should be read starting with the next post above this one and scrolling upward.

The most recent post will always be the one immediately below the header.

William A. Smith: "A fine painter" - Robert Fawcett

About the only thing I like better than sharing examples from my collection of mid-20th century illustrators with you is when you return the favour. That's why I was so pleased when Charlie Allen, whose career we learned about last September, began emailing me pieces by illustrators he admired and had clipped for his own reference and inspiration back in the day. Like these three beauties by William A. Smith.

Some of Smith's illustrations (the few I'd seen) reminded me a little of Robert Fawcett's work. So I particularly enjoyed this anecdote Charlie related to me about meeting Robert Fawcett:

"May have told you this, but about 1950 or '51 Haines Hall and Chet Patterson asked me to join them for dinner one evening at one of those old but posh SF eateries. The lure, RF would be joining us. Believe Stan Galli and Bruce Bomberger were there too. With no warning, they sat me next to RF (Haines' brother-in-law). In a lull, I ventured a question to the great one....'Do you know William A. Smith?' He did a double take, turned to Haines, and gesturing to me, said, 'who's this?' I think his actual words were 'who the hell is this?' Haines explained ( I was the favored new kid on the block), and RF reluctantly turned and said, 'yes, Bill is a good friend....and he's a fine painter'. He did not say 'illustrator'. That was the only conversation from him for the evening, with me at least. At the time I naturally was in awe of RF, but was also an admirer of Wm. A. Smith."

About these images, Charlie wrote:

"Smith had a heavy painterly hand....but could be oh-so subtle when the character or scene needed it. I could tell he had to 'behave himself' on the Coca Cola ad [above] ...had to hold back some of that 'horsepower' he possessed. He was not as inventive in style and technique as, say, Briggs, Parker, Fawcett, etc.....but he was rock solid on dramatic presentation."

Charlie went on to say, "He seemed a mystery....never heard much about him or his career, etc." - which I was unable to help with, since what I knew about the artist was no more than what was available in the short bio you can find in Walt Reed's "Illustrator in America".

Then, in one of those coincidences that make me think "there are no coincidences", a package arrived in the mail: a recent acquisition from ebay... two bound volumes of American Artist magazine, 1952 and 1953. And what should the June 1952 issue contain but a six-page article on William A. Smith!

That same issue contained this ad below, so now you know what the artist looked like around the time he painted these pieces.

With the generous assistance of Charlie Allen, who has provided virtually all the scans I'll be presenting, and with the benefit of the information in the American Artist article, it looks like we will get to spend this week learning about "a fine painter", William A. Smith.

William A. Smith: "A relentless regimen of drawing..."

"I was put through my paces in the old fashioned style." That's how William A. Smith described his early formal art education, which began at age 12.

Theodore J. Keane, who had once been the dean at the Chicago Art Institute School, was the young Bill Smith's first art teacher and mentor back in Toledo, Ohio, where Smith was born.

"That teenage study was not of the glamorous sort," says the article on Smith in the June 1952 issue of American Artist. "At least it would not have been except for the magic of Keane's inspiring influence."

"Indeed it was a relentless regimen of drawing from casts and still lifes for two full years before a living model was thought of."

"But in those years," continues author Ernest W. Watson, "Bill really learned to draw and he learned a lot about those intangibles which activate the more subtle facets of his dramatic career."

My William A. Smith Flickr set.

Step by Step with Bill Smith

From the June 1952 issue of American Artist magazine:

My William A. Smith Flickr set.

William A. Smith: Dissipating Popular Presumtions

Considering the recent discussions we've had here about fine art vs. illustration, first with our look at Robert Weaver and the Avant-garde movement, and more recently with Tom Watson's analysis of the work of Daniel Schwartz, I had to smile when I read the following passage from the June 1952 issue of American Artist:

"The one-time popular presumption that the practice of illustration somehow disqualified an artist as a so-called fine arts painter seems by now to have been quite thoroughly dissipated."

William A. Smith is held up as proof positive of this contention. Smith, the article proclaims, "was an exhibiting painter before he got his first important illustration commission."

I dunno, perhaps this debate will rage on for all time... so long as there are people who consider the artwork hanging on a gallery wall to be somehow more worthy than the artwork printed on the pages of a magazine. To my way of thinking quality is quality, and because the artwork has a utilitarian purpose (interpreting genre fiction, for instance) that doesn't reduce my appreciation for it as 'art' or disqualify the illustrator as an artist.

William A. Smith left Toledo at age 19 to establish himself in New York as a freelance artist. During his career he won numerous awards from both the commercial and fine arts communities. What's most telling about the nature of the artist is how he describes approaching his subject:

"When a subject... suggests a feeling that is provocative to me, I make very rapid pencil notes of it in a sketchbook. I study the sketch for a day or two, analyzing my reaction to the subject and doodling variations on the arrangement in an effort to eliminate factors that are extraneous and to develop those aspects that enhance the mood I wish to express."

Smith says he takes pains to avoid "too much copying of details. I juggle elements, eliminating some, exaggerating others and inventing new ones."

"A picture," says Smith, "should be a new entity rather than a replica of a bit of nature."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... art!

My William A. Smith Flickr set.

William A. Smith: "Never heard of him"

I began this week's look at the work of William A. Smith by telling you that I knew very little about the artist and that Charlie Allen, who provided most of this week's scans, had written to me that "[Smith] seemed a mystery....never heard much about him or his career, etc."

Well here's just a little about William A. Smith:

He was President of the American Watercolor Society and President of the American delegation to the International Association of Art. His work won a variety of awards including the Winslow Homer Memorial Prize, the Postal Commemorative Society Prize and the American Watercolor Society's Grand Prize, Gold (twice), Silver, Bronze and Stuart prizes. Below is the piece for which Smith won the Society of Illustrator's Gold Medal for Advertising Illustration in 1959.

Smith taught at the Grand Central Art School and at the Pratt Institute. He lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens in 1954; Manila, 1955; Warsaw, 1958. He was one of the first artists sent to Russia under the Cultural Exchange Agreement in 1958.

At the age of 13, he began to exhibit his work in serious competitions. The following year he was employed as a sketch artist by the Scripps-Howard Newspapers to cover the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics - can you image? a 14-year-old boy! - and later he worked for the San Francisco Examiner sketching murder trials. The same year, Smith was accepted as the youngest member of the National Academy of Design.

All this week, both here and and on Flickr, I've seen the same comments again and again: "This guy's work is amazing!" and "I'd never heard of him before..."

What is wrong with this profession that illustrators of Smith's calibre and accomplishments could have fallen into such obscurity after such a relatively short time? Go to any library and you'll find entire sections devoted to art and art history... but the books that document the history of illustration wouldn't fill one shelf.

I never learned about the great illustrators when I was in art college... perhaps things have changed... I hope so.

Yesterday, thanks to TI list member Benton Jew, I was contacted by William A. Smith's daughter, Kim. She wrote, "The bar scene (Leon and Eddies in NY) at the top of the April 1 blog is on the wall above me as we speak. I have three painting of my Dad's here on the wall, and they are so greatly appreciated. I have forwarded the blog to my Mother and encouraged her to write to you about all of this. We can provide you with quite a bit of info. Thanks so very much. The whole family is excited."

I know I can speak for a great many people when I say we're excited too, Kim, that we'll now be able to learn a little more about your father - and help to celebrate his accomplishments and to keep his memory alive.

My William A. Smith Flickr set.

People Send Me Stuff: Part 2

One of the happy results of my recent posts on William A. Smith was hearing from Kim Smith, the artist's daughter. Kim very kindly sent me a catalogue from a 1996 show of her dad's work at the James A. Michener Art Museum.

With Kim's permission, I am very pleased to share a few examples of WAS's magnificent work from that catalogue with you today.

We will very certainly be revisiting the life and work of William A. Smith in the future. Kim, her brother Rick, and her mom, Ferol, have all been relating some great anecdotes that you will eventually get to read here. And I have been scanning more of Smith's art from my magazine collection to accompany those stories.

But that's for another time. For now, enjoy these images at full size in my William A. Smith Flickr set.