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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

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

Monday, March 31, 2008

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.

12 comments

  1. How nice to see which artists a great artist like Charlie admires.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Bruce Hettema

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have always thought William A. Smith was one of the least known top illustrators I have ever seen... a terrific literal illustrator. CharlieAllen hit the nail on the head, when he said Smith's work was "rock solid". I never saw a William A. Smith illustration, that wasn't top notch in drawing and execution. I'm glad Leif and Charlie are focusing on this great illustrator. I will sit back and really enjoy this week's TI.

    Tom Watson

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  3. Smith was a terrific artist; I agree with Tom 100%, and I am so glad to be learning more about Smith. Thanks again, Leif.

    It sounds like Charlie got more civil words from Robert Fawcett in 30 minutes than most people got in a lifetime. He should count his blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a painting by William of the Daytona 500 that was my grandfathers. He did a wonderful job of capturing the race. For a moment when looking at the painting I felt like I was actually there.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kathryn...I would REALLY like to talk to you. Thank you for your comments. I can be reached at: kim5888@sbcglobal.net

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think I have one of his paintings but it is a Datona Beach race day painting dated 1962.How can I find out if this work was done bu him.It is signed with his name.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Frogger123;

    Email me privately at leifpeng[at]gmail[dot]com with your contact info and I'll connect you to William A. Smith's widow and daughter - they will probably be able to identify your painting for certain.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Found your blog as I searched Wm. A. Smith, who was a friend of my father's. I cherish the 1940 portrait of my father in his U.S. Army private's uniform he painted. It now hangs on my wall almost 70 years later.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous, I am Bill's daughter, and Leif alerted me to your comment, as I missed it. Who was your Dad? Perhaps I knew him. I'm so happy that you have a portrait of your father that you cherish. Dad was able to get to the humanity of the person he was painting.

    very best,

    Kim Smith

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous9:12 PM

    Hi Kim. My dad was Albert (Al) Francis Leister. I believe they were very good friends. My dad was born in Toledo (as yours) in 1917 and worked for the Blade. They were friends during the war and kept in touch afterwards. I knew your dad was an artist in Buck's County and I saw Boxing Scene at the Michener. It touched me just knowing how much my dad thought of yours. Mary

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mary! I knew your Dad and am trying to think where I last saw him... possibly in Arizona? Florida? Didn't your Dad have a military career as well? I'm a little fuzzy. They WERE very good friends and stayed in touch. My mother is still alive and no doubt knows more than I do.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous8:42 PM

    I have a friend that has a painting by William A Smith it is title Daytona 500. It has a label on the back of it that tells a brief history of William and the painting. How can he find out a value of this art? I can be reached at simpleman0374@hotmail.com Thanks for any help

    ReplyDelete

 

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