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William Arthur Smith papers


Held at: James A. Michener Art Museum Archives [Contact Us]138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, 18901

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

William Arthur Smith (1918-1989) was a painter, illustrator, and photographer. In 1956, he moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and established a studio and gallery in New Hope. Smith received several high profile commissions, traveled extensively, and has work in many major museums, including the National Portrait Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress.

William Arthur Smith (April 19, 1918-April 27, 1989) was born in Toledo, Ohio and studied there at the Theodore Keane Art School (1932-1936) and at the University of Toledo (1936 to 1937), receiving an honorary master of arts degree in 1954. He was married twice, to Mary France Nixon in 1939 (1 son), and then to Ferol Yvonne Stratton in 1949 (2 daughters).

In 1937, Smith moved to New York City, where he established a studio. He joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in China in 1944-1945. He was an official delegate to the International Association of Plastic Arts in Venice (1954) and to the Soviet Union through a cultural exchange program (1958). In 1956, encouraged by woodworker George Nakashima and author Pearl S. Buck, he moved to Bucks County, PA, where he established a studio and founded Gallery 10 in New Hope, PA. He was vice-president and board member of the Pearl S. Buck's Welcome House (1968-1973). He worked actively for the International Association of Art, under UNESCO, serving as its president from 1973 to 1977.

Smith received many awards including the Adolf and Clara Obrig Prize for oil painting (1953), American Artists Group Prize for lithography at the Society of American Graphic Artists (1954), the Isabelle S. Knobloch Prize (1956), Winslow Homer Memorial Prize (1962), American Patriots' Medal (1974), the National Academy of Design watercolor award (1949 and 1951), and several American Watercolor Society awards (Silver medal in 1948, 1952, 1973; the Stuart Watercolor Prize in 1954; Gold Medal in 1957, 1965; Edgar A Whitney Award in 1970; Bronze Medal in 1972). He was selected as an academician of the National Academy of Design in 1952 and was elected President of the American Watercolor Society in 1956. He received the Postal Commemorative Society Prize and the Freedoms Foundation Award, both in 1974. He became a Dolphin Fellow in 1975. He promoted the Visual Artists Rights Act and Moral Rights proposals in the US.

Smith's work is represented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Portrait Gallery (portrait of Carl Sandburg) and Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the James A Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, and the Syracuse University Library Special Collections. During the 1960s and 1970s, Smith's work was the subject of over 20 solo exhibitions at the Toledo Museum of Art, at other US sites, and in foreign cities. His illustrations have appeared in mass audience magazines (e.g. Saturday Evening Post, Holiday, Cosmopolitan) and in many books, including those authored by Pearl S. Buck (The Chinese Children Next Door, The Water Buffalo Children) and Carl Sandburg (The Sandburg Range, Windsong, Honey and Salt).

In 1968, he created a 1000 square-foot historical mural for the "Maryland-Welcome House," commissioned by the State of Maryland, depicting Leonard Calvert, the Jesuit priest Andrew White, and the Yuocomico Indians. He traveled extensively on sponsored trips through Western and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Greece, and Asia (including Burma, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India).

The US Postal Service commissioned several postal stamp designs of Smith's, including the 1976 Bicentennial series (Rise of the Spirit of Independence, as well as the historical figures Carl Sandburg and Sidney Lanier). Of these, The Boston Tea Party Set, a block of 4 stamps, is considered a total work of art.

William Arthur Smith papers, 1918-1989 (bulk 1930s-1960s), consist of biographical information, press clippings, exhibit catalogs, materials from travel and international exhibitions, business correspondence, personal correspondence, documents related to commissioned and non-commissioned artwork, lecture and presentation materials, materials relating to or from Pearl S. Buck and Carl Sandburg, photographs and negatives, honors and awards, materials from organizations with which Smith was involved, sketchbooks and original artworks, and other materials. There are several oversized items in the collection.

William Arthur Smith's papers on his artwork consist of original sketches (in pencil, ink, or paint) and sketch books, photographs, negatives, and copies of the artist's work representing both commissioned work (illustrated advertisements, calendars, magazine illustrations, book illustrations and covers, and portraits) and non-commissioned personal work (Chinese, Japanese, and East Asian subjects; Carl Sandburg; family members; European subjects); and photographs of William Arthur Smith and his studio. Noteworthy, are records and correspondence of Smith's artwork of Carl Sandburg and woodworker George Nakashima, the creation and desecration of an historical mural for the "Maryland-Welcome House," and the US Postal Service commissioned Bicentennial series ( Rise of the Spirit of Independence). Smith was a personal friend of Carl Sandburg, who in 1961 penned a poem titled William A. Smith. A list of highlighted topics and materials from the collection is below:

Books in the Michener Library (in Rare Book Drawer): books #22-27: Sue in Tibet by Doris Shelton Still; The Chinese Children Next Door by Pearl S. Buck; The Water Buffalo Children by Pearl S. Buck; Folk Tales from China by Lim Siam-tek; More Folk Tales from China by Lim Siam-tek; Water Color Methods, ed. by Norman Kent

Commissioned Work: (Boxes 4, 5, 7) Photographs, negatives, and colored reproductions, the majority consisting of studies for portraits (Box 7) (physicians and writers, artists, musicians, and businessmen, including Carl Sandburg, Paul Hogarth, Sidney Lanier, Louis Auchincloss, David Burpee, and George Nakashima); illustrated print advertisements (e.g. Coca-Cola); illustrated calendars (e.g. Coca-Cola, History of the Chaplaincy, General Electric, Esso); magazine illustrations (e.g. Saturday Evening Post, True, McCall's, Harper's Bazaar); and book/ book cover illustrations, including The Sandburg Range and The Citadel). (Boxes 4 & 5)

Commissioned Mural for the Maryland Welcome House: Photographs, correspondence, and press clippings of the mural creation and installation, research for the mural, and subsequent mural desecration (see Boxes 2 & 6). Also included is a large mural sketch.

Coin Plagiarism controversy, 1974: Correspondence and acetate overlays on photographs of the little drummer boy from Smith's stamp design versus the coin struck by the US Mint (see Box 2 & 6).

Stamps: (Box 6) The Bicentennial series ( Rise of the Spirit of Independence, as well as stamp designs of historical figures (Carl Sandburg and Sidney Lanier). Of these, the collection contains The Boston Tea Party Set series block of 4 stamps (1973), 1 LaSalle Claims Louisiana stamp, 1 Carl Sandburg stamp, the Ben Franklin cachet, and other stamp cachets (1 with original sketch). Two additional sets of stamps (4 each) for the Postal Commemorative Society (Statue of Liberty, with original sketch, Veterans Administration).

Non-commissioned Personal Work (1918-1989): (Box 3) photographs, negatives, and copies of numerous William Arthur Smith art works (Chinese, Japanese, East Asian subjects; Calcutta; Sandburg; family members; European subjects [Paris, Normandy, Irish, Italian]; and photographs of Smith and studio.

International Travel & Exhibitions: (Boxes 13 & 14) photographs and original ink sketches for propaganda art (unknown if these were commissioned as part of his travels or personal work)

Gallery 10, New Hope, PA: exhibition announcements and cards; photographs; business & accounting records; "The Insiders" exhibit correspondence; and 3 guest books

Photographic studies and sketches of boxing for the oil painting, The Boxing Scene (1955), gifted to the Michener and in the permanent collection (Box 4)

Personal Correspondence: (Box 10) letters, cards, and photographs of local and international artists

A more detailed inventory is available on-site.

Gift of Smith descendents, 2012

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact James A. Michener Art Museum Archives directly for more information.

James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using information provided by the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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