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 preservationists, she collaborated with her father, the historian D. E. H. Smith, providing architectural drawings for two important publications: Twenty Drawings of the Pringle House (1914) and The Dwelling Houses of Charleston, South Carolina (1917). Smith experimented with woodblock printing in 1917, producing exquisite, 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. She 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. Smith 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, filled with annotated pencil drawings and watercolor studies of flora and fauna, also attest to Smith's careful observation of nature.
In 1936, Smith published thirty of her watercolors in A Carolina Rice Plantation, her famous, retrospective record 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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