Category Archives: Art History

Alice Smith Self Portrait 1908

Alice the Trailblazer

By Anne Tinker

Unlike most women of her time, Alice became a nationally renowned artist and successful businesswoman despite little formal training. At the age of ten, her grandmother told her that she should become an artist to earn a living. Since men dominated the arts at the time, she sought out mentors such as Tonalist artist Birge Harrison, Japanese print collector (and distant cousin) Motte Alston Read, and author Owen Wister. These men contributed to her development as an artist and helped her establish connections for the marketing of her work. She went on to be a mentor for others, including many women artists.

As a leader in the cultural movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s in the Carolina Lowcountry, Alice collaborated closely with her artist friends Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Leila Waring, and Anna Heyward Taylor. The four of them established art studios in close proximity to each other on Atlantic and Church Streets, and this Charleston Renaissance “artist colony” became a popular tourist destination.   

Such collaborations helped women artists in the South gain recognition and advance their careers. However, at the time, these opportunities were only available to those who were white. In 1921 Alice joined together with other Southern artists to form the Southern States Art League, which had 1,000 active members, two-thirds of whom were women. The league’s annual exhibitions offered women artists a unique opportunity to sell their work. Alice participated actively in the league’s exhibitions throughout the South and funded a cash prize for the best watercolor each year. As another example of her collaborative approach, in 1923 Alice, with the assistance of artist Alfred Hutty, brought a group together to form the Charleston Etchers’ Club, which had nine inaugural members, seven of whom were women. Etching was profitable, since each etched plate produced multiple prints which were popular with tourists.

Alice guided and supported other artists throughout her life, such as her student and mentee Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. Another mentee was Alicia Rhett, who painted a portrait of Alice as a tribute to her beloved teacher. Alicia Rhett was an artist but known best for her role as India Wilkes in Gone with the Wind in 1939. Later in life, Alice continued to advise and support young artists, including sharing her house and giving watercolor lessons to her good friend Talulah McInvaill, whose son Dwight is the inspiration for this book on Alice. 

From the Cutting Room Floor: The Palace of Arts

Occasionally we’ll bring you exclusive glimpses of Alice and her life that didn’t make it into the final volume. This entry from co-author Dwight McInvaill.

By Dwight McInvaill

While Alice, as a young woman, had access in Charleston to art stores, to relatives’ collections of artwork, and to basic artistic training, she lacked first-hand exposure to major works of art. That changed in 1902 with the coming there of a six-month world’s fair to which she had a season’s pass.

This South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition featured the Palace of Arts.  Designed by Bradford Gilbert, it was itself an impressive three-story work of art with its ivory-colored, exterior, classical façade. Its frontage featured eight, tall, slender, foundation-to-roof-line Ionic columns; three grand triangularly-arched Georgian front doors surmounted each by a round window; a balustraded peaked roof accented at each facing end by large pointed pediments; and four large sculptural groupings of military prowess on projected bases of its corners. These latter martial elements on the east and west sides of the building had previously been displayed on the Dewey Arch in New York City, and they represented War, Peace, the Army, and the Navy.[i]

The interior of this solid-brick, fire-proof structure stretched for 7,000 square feet and rose to a height of 30 feet. It was divided into three interior rooms with a general classification as follows: “Group 1:  Paintings in oil and other recognized mediums and miniatures executed by American artists during the so-called ‘Colonial and Revolutionary Periods’ and the fifty years thereafter, or say, 1730–1840. Group 2: Paintings in oil, watercolor, pastel and other recognized mediums, executed by artists of the United States within the period from 1875–1901.  Group 3: Sculpture, including medals and cameos by American artists.” Proclaimed by the fair’s boosters as being “the finest display of American art ever made in this country,” it was collected “by Mr. James Bliss Townsend of New York City, Art Director of the Exposition.”[ii]

Duncan Gay, the son of the landscape painter Edward Gay, and a designer in his own right, provided “artistic assistance in hanging and arrangement of the galleries,” and a reviewer noted that “one of the first impressions the observer gets is the harmonious result of the very great care taken by the hanging committee.” Since the assemblage encompassed 584 works, the presentation of this collection “on the interior walls finished in gray stucco” was done in a Salon-Style installation with paintings displayed not only side by side but also above and below each other to maximize the utilization of space in a floor-to-ceiling manner considered sophisticated by Gilded Age standards.As noted in the official guide to the exposition, “A very large skylight, 24 feet wide, [extended]…the entire length of the building giving ample light to display the art treasures.” Fabric canopies might have filtered bright sunlight, and reflectors on hanging electric lights could have highlighted certain works.[iii]

References and Resources

[i] Bruce G. Harvey, World’s Fairs in a Southern Accent:  Atlanta, Nashville, and Charleston, 1895–1902 (Knoxville, TN:  The University of Tennessee Press, 2014), 105.  Owen Wister, “The Charleston Exposition,” 5960.  Official Guide, the South Carolina Inter-state and West Indian Exposition, 49.

[ii] Exhibition of Fine Arts, The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, Charleston, South Carolina, 1901–1902, Catalogue (Charleston, SC:  Lucas-Richardson Co., [1902] – South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers, File 21/54/25), 4. 

[iii] Edward Gay and Gay Family Papers, 1852–1975: (http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/edward-gay-and-gay-family-papers-6597).  “Exhibition of Fine Arts” in The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition,South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers, File 21/54/25, 2 & 32.  Beatrice Witte Ravenel, “Pictures at the Exposition,” News and Courier, May 7, 1902, np, South Carolina Historical Society File #21-71-01, Eola Willis Papers, Scrapbook. Harvey, World’s Fairs in a Southern Accent:  Atlanta, Nashville, and Charleston, 1895–1902,105. Official Guide, the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, 49.   Janet Whitmore, “Presentation Strategies in the American Gilded Age:  One Case Study,”in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, 2013–14: www.19thc-artworldwide.org.

[1] Bruce G. Harvey, World’s Fairs in a Southern Accent:  Atlanta, Nashville, and Charleston, 1895–1902 (Knoxville, TN:  The University of Tennessee Press, 2014), 105.  Owen Wister, “The Charleston Exposition,” 5960.  Official Guide, the South Carolina Inter-state and West Indian Exposition, 49.

[1] Exhibition of Fine Arts, The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, Charleston, South Carolina, 1901–1902, Catalogue (Charleston, SC:  Lucas-Richardson Co., [1902] – South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers, File 21/54/25), 4. 

[1] Edward Gay and Gay Family Papers, 1852–1975: (http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/edward-gay-and-gay-family-papers-6597).  “Exhibition of Fine Arts” in The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers, File 21/54/25, 2 & 32.  Beatrice Witte Ravenel, “Pictures at the Exposition,” News and Courier, May 7, 1902, np, South Carolina Historical Society File #21-71-01, Eola Willis Papers, Scrapbook. Harvey, World’s Fairs in a Southern Accent:  Atlanta, Nashville, and Charleston, 1895–1902,105. Official Guide, the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, 49.   Janet Whitmore, “Presentation Strategies in the American Gilded Age:  One Case Study,”in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, 2013–14: www.19thc-artworldwide.org.

From the Cutting Room Floor: Lanneau’s Art Store

Occasionally we’ll bring you exclusive glimpses of Alice and her life that didn’t make it into the final volume. This entry from co-author Dwight McInvaill.

Lanneau’s Art Store

B&W photograph (scan) of Lanneau’s Art Store (238 King Street). A woman and young girl are entering the building. Sign for “Scwartz” [Louis Schwartz] mounted on side door frame. The building was demolished for the construction of Charleston Place. Courtesy of the Fairfield County Historical Museum. From https://www.historiccharleston.org/

Alice loved books.  In 1914, she published her first—Twenty Drawings of the Pringle House in partnership with Lanneau’s Art Store of Charleston (one such image shown above).  Lanneau’s Art Store was one of those wonderful, local, small businesses that have always helped artistic communities to thrive.  Founded in 1897 when William S. Lanneau bought out William E. Holmes & Company at 321 King Street, it received its new name in 1905 and was moved in November 1906 to 238 King Street by partners Lanneau, Melchers, and Harry O. Withington.  Managed by Lanneau until 1927, it continued operations there until liquidation in June 1953.

From 1907 to 1953, the African American Edward Eugene Rivers framed pictures there for Alice and others.  Alice also used this firm as the shipper of her watercolors to exhibitions nationwide.[i]  Lanneau’s may have also been Alice’s source for “Kodak’s supplies, expert developing, printing, and enlargements [at] special prices.”  It also had, of course, the full range of papers, paints, and canvases along with “all the new and artistic things.”[ii]

On display regularly were artworks by locals such as William Aiken Walker “whose many paintings of the areas throughout the south bear the sticker [even today] of Lanneau’s Art Store.”  One can well imagine the shop as a busy place bubbling continually with both formal and casual creative interactions.  Lanneau’s appealed moreover to hobbyists by featuring an amateur model supply depot under the supervision of brothers Frank and St. Julien Melchers.[iii]

The company did, of course, the typical civic sponsorships of worthwhile community activities.  These included rousing sporting events, such as exhibition baseball games featuring the Citadel Cadets versus the Washington Light Infantry––of which Lanneau as a Major was the Light Infantry’s military commander as well as its baseball team manager.  Lanneau’s Art Store’s patronage likewise ranged upwards to far more high-brow pursuits including the complete financial backing for an exhibit of early American and Colonial wallpapers brought to the Charleston Museum by the prestigious American Federation of Arts. [iv]


References and Resources

[i] “Lanneau’s Store Going Out of Business After 56 Years,” 47; “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for Edward Eugene Rivers” in Ancestry.com; Alice Ravenel Huger Smithto Erwin S. Barrie of the Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, July 13, 1926, South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers.

[ii] “Backward Glances,” News and Courier, August 8, 1952, 4.

[iii] August P. Trovaioli and Roulhac B. Toledano, William Aiken Walker:  Southern Genre Painter (Gretna, Louisiana:  Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., 2008 [Originally, Louisiana State University Press, 1972 and 2000]), 53.  .

[iv] To reference W. S. Lanneau as the Major of the Washington Light Infantry and as its baseball team manager, see respectively “Exhibition Base Ball Game,” Evening Post, April 4, 1903, p4, and “Higher Standard for Soldiers Here:  Major Lanneau Plans to Increase Efficiency of the First Battalion,” Evening Post, February 4, 1908, 10.  As for Lanneau Art Store’s financial support of a special historic wallpaper exhibition at the Charleston Museum, see “Special Wall Paper Exhibit,” Bulletin of the Charleston Museum,vol. XVII, no. 4 (October 1922), 43.

[1] “Lanneau’s Store Going Out of Business After 56 Years,” 47; “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for Edward Eugene Rivers” in Ancestry.com; Alice Ravenel Huger Smithto Erwin S. Barrie of the Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, July 13, 1926, South Carolina Historical Society, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith Papers.
[1] “Backward Glances,” News and Courier, August 8, 1952, 4.
[1] August P. Trovaioli and Roulhac B. Toledano, William Aiken Walker:  Southern Genre Painter (Gretna, Louisiana:  Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., 2008 [Originally, Louisiana State University Press, 1972 and 2000]), 53. [1] To reference W. S. Lanneau as the Major of the Washington Light Infantry and as its baseball team manager, see respectively “Exhibition Base Ball Game,” Evening Post, April 4, 1903, p4, and “Higher Standard for Soldiers Here:  Major Lanneau Plans to Increase Efficiency of the First Battalion,” Evening Post, February 4, 1908, 10.  As for Lanneau Art Store’s financial support of a special historic wallpaper exhibition at the Charleston Museum, see “Special Wall Paper Exhibit,” Bulletin of the Charleston Museum,vol. XVII, no. 4 (October 1922), 43.