The block prints of Charles W. Smith

07/06/2011 7:00 PM by

Charles William Smith (1893-1987)

Born in Lofton, Virginia, in 1893, Charles William Smith studied at the University of Virginia summer school, the Corcoran Art School, and Yale University’s School of Fine Arts. He taught at the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and the New York School of Printing. Smith moved to Richmond in 1925 where he worked as an artist for Whittet & Shepperson, a local printing firm. In 1929 he taught art at the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary. For the next four years, Smith worked out of his apartment on Monument Avenue as a commercial artist. He became chair of the art department at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, in 1936 and taught there until 1947. Smith taught at the University of Virginia from 1947 until his retirement in 1963 and was the first chairman of the art department. Charles W. Smith died in Charlottesville in 1987.

Smith learned how to use gouges and chisels from his father, a patternmaker for local industries. Early in his career he turned to linoleum block printing. He explained in his 1926 book, Linoleum Block Printing, that the basic techniques for linoleum block and wood block were similar. The artist transferred his design to the block and then cut the design in relief. Areas not to be printed were cut away. The difference lay in the inability of the linoleum to permit fine lines or much detail. Linoleum blocks produced prints with large areas of color and minimal lines.

Unlike Lankes, Smith was often experimental. A nationally recognized printmaker, Smith also was an accomplished book designer. His Old Virginia in Block Prints, chosen as one of the “Fifty Books of the Year” for 1929 by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, was a collection of linoleum block prints. He published woodcuts in his books on Charleston (1933) and the University of Virginia (1937), but ventured beyond representational printmaking in the 1940s. Smith created a method of block painting to explore abstract forms. He published two books of his block paintings, Animal Fare and My Zoological Garden.

Shadows on Franklin Street

Fulton from Church Hill

Wash Day in Jackson Ward

Under the Viaduct



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