Alice Smith is one of the most celebrated and accomplished artists of the Charleston Renaissance, well known for lyrical, tonalist watercolors. Born to a distinguished family in Charleston, she took early drawing and watercolor training at the Carolina Art Association, but was largely self-taught, developing her art through independent study, as well as associations with visiting artists and friends, including Birge Harrison, Helen Hyde, and Bertha Jaques.
In 1914, Smith contributed drawings for the book A Woman Rice Planter by Patience Pennington (Elizabeth Allston Pringle). One of the earliest historical preservationists, she also collaborated with her father, the historian D. E. H. Smith, providing architectural drawings for two important publications: Twenty Drawings of the Pringle House (1914 portfolio); and the book, The Dwelling Houses of Charleston, South Carolina (1917). Smith experimented with wood-block printing in 1917, producing exquisite, original Japanese-influenced examples.
By the 1920s, Smith began concentrating on landscape watercolors. She portrayed the creeks, marshes, and swamps of the Lowcountry in a fluid style. Smith made sketches from nature, but generally composed larger and more formal watercolors in the studio. Her study of Ernest Fenollosa’s two-volume Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art (1912) remained significant in her creation of watercolors. She was also influenced by Birge Harrison’s discipline of "memory sketches," whereby the artist intensively studied a landscape view or fragment, made sketches, and then later rendered a watercolor of the scene from memory. These methods gave her the more poetic and imaginative vision that she often sought in her work. Numerous sketches and sketchbooks also attest to Smith’s careful observation and recording of nature, through annotated pencil drawings and watercolor studies of flora and fauna.
In 1936, Smith published thirty of her watercolors in A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, her famous, retrospective portrayal of nineteenth century rice cultivation. Although her creative production slowed in the late 1930s and 1940s due to family illness and the war, she remained active until late in life.
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