My mentor, Harold Irving Smith, was born in Newport RI in 1892 of New England Yankee stock. His father was a photographer whose customers included wealthy summer visitors, some of whom, according to Harold, rarely paid their bills in the same year they commissioned the work. Harold returned to Newport in his later years and this photograph was taken at his storefront studio on Bellevue Street in 1958.
This is the two of us on a bluff overlooking what we could see of the Americas Cup Race of 1958 in which the USA was victorious whenColumbia beat Britain's Sceptre.
My young wife, Ruth, was 26 at the time. Harold described her as "quite a dish."
He liked her so much that he did a couple of portraits of her. This is a work in pastel on a 23 x 29-inch colored sheet of Strathmore pastel paper.
In this close-up you can see how he worked in the various shades of flesh colors. Click on image to enlarge.
Me as a kid, 1946. I was almost 18 and had dropped out of Massachusetts College of Art to work in Harold's studio. It was on the third and top floor of a beat-up building at 34 La Grange Street in Boston, just on the edge of what was called "The Combat Zone." On the floor below was a sign painter's workshop, just above Eddie Jordan's barber shop. Eddie's son Bob and I were friends and when Eddie heard I was going to art school, he said he would introduce me to Harold, which he did. Such as it was, Harold liked my work. I offered to work for him sweeping floors or whatever it took to get the kind of mentoring I felt I needed. As it turned out I did very little floor sweeping, though another young guy and I painted the studio, which I recall included a long expanse of ceiling fabricated of an embossed metal design. It seemed to be an unending and messy task that would have been so much easier with a spray gun, had we known where to rent one.
Click on the image for a close-up showing detail. Though Harold concentrated mainly on portraiture in oils and pastels, he did an occasional illustration for Boston and New York advertising agencies. This is a full page from LIFE magazine that was painted for black and white reproduction. The client was John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. The background is of Tremont Street in 1944 with kids skating on the Frog Pond on Boston Common and the model might have been his grandson Jimmy. It predated my days in the studio so it's an just an educated guess.
The famous American painter and teacher Robert Henri (pronounced hen-rye) was Harold's instructor at the Art Students League in New York City which Harold attended after service in the U.S. Navy during World War I. (Harold was a jazz drummer whose Navy service was in a marching band. In 1918 he contracted and recovered from the Spanish influenza pandemic that eventually killed millions throughout the world.) While in New York he made friends with members of the Ashcan group of painters, among them Everett Shinn and the hard drinking and disagreeable George Luks. George Bellows was another acquantance whose death at an early age he often recalled with great sorrow. The Art Spirit is one of Henri's great books and highly recommended to anyone who contemplates a career in the arts. Any of the larger search engines on the Web will locate much more information about Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, George Luks and George Bellows.
Salome by Robert Henri, 1965-1929. An oil painting circa 1909. Click on image for enlargement.
Watercolor, 11.5 x 7.75 inches, of surf crashing on the rocks at Newport. It was probably done in the early 1950s. It was given to Ruth and me during that period. It's a sheet from a pad of watercolor paper on which Harold laid on a wet wash of color over a very rough sketch in pencil. Click on each image for more detail.
Harold was a heavy cigarette smoker who favored long unfiltered Pall Malls. In the early 1960s he was stricken with mild seizures that he chose to ignore. He had retired more or less from doing pastel portraits after significant success with U.S. Air Force families at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. A massive stroke left him paralyzed and bedridden. His daughter and son-in-law, with whom he lived in Sandwich, could not adequately care for his medical needs, so he was admitted to a nursing home in nearby Bourne. When two of his former portrait subjects learned of his condition, they arranged to have him transferred to a much better care facility in Melbourne, Florida, where he departed this life on 27 April 1969 at the age of 77. Three days later his body was brought back to Middletown RI for burial. His son-in-law, Albie Keith, and I, with two cemetery workmen, acted as pallbearers. We easily lifted his plain pine coffin from the back of a pickup truck and carried it over to an open grave. It remains to this day one of the most poignant moments of my life. Years later my wife and I met a young woman who was cataloguing the artistic resources of Newport. It included all the famous and nearly famous town residents. She had never heard of Harold Irving Smith. Not only that but she had never heard of Will Cotton, one of Harold's schoolmates at Rhode Island School of Design, who went on to fame as an illustrator and cover artist for the early New Yorker magazine. More's the pity. I hope this web log will help to introduce you to other extraordinary talent that might have been overlooked. Link to Will Cotton caricature at http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/caricatures/thana.htm
Update 21 January 2006 Harold's grandson, Jim Keith, and his daughter, Amy, have been kind enough to pass on the image of a painting Harold did for the Thornton W. Burgess Society Museum, which is located on Cape Cod in the town of Sandwich. I remember when he was doing this painting, which is from a photograph of the original Bobby Racoon being fed by one of Thornton's neighbors. For more about this prolific writer of childrens books, who lived to be 91, click on any of the following links. I will try to add more information as I find it. Plymouth, MA, school bulletin. Article in the Barnstable Patriot. A biography of Thornton Burgess. Thornton Burgess Museum.