Friday, August 19, 2016

Lawrence Beall Smith (1909-1995)-Part One

I have a book called Contemporary American Painting, and though it is no longer contemporary, it still has great value as an artifact of another era and as a source of information about artists of yesteryear. Contemporary American Painting was written and edited by Grace Pagano and published in 1945 by Duell, Sloan and Pearce. As it turns out, this blog is more or less in the same format as Grace Pagano's book: brief biographies of artists followed by images of their work. (1) I found the book yesterday (Aug. 13, 2016) at the local library book sale. As I looked through it, I hoped to find an artist born in Indiana. There was none. But I found an artist who lived in Indiana as a child, and I'm happy to include him in my list of Indiana illustrators. I'm happy, too, to write something about him using a medium--the Internet--that seems not to have paid the facts of his life very much attention.

Lawrence Beall Smith was born on October 2, 1909, in Washington, D.C., to Gerald Karr Smith (1882-1964) and Leah Beall Smith (1883-1979). He appears to have been their only child. According to Contemporary American Painting, "his childhood was spent in the Carolinas, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana." (p. 105) That wandering childhood was probably due his father's work, but Lawrence Beall Smith had a connection to Indiana on his mother's side as well. First, his father.

Born in Galion, Ohio, Gerald Karr Smith (1882-1964) was descended from a Revolutionary War soldier, Private Jacob Smith of New Jersey. Smith's father, Stephen L. Smith, was a school teacher, postmaster, and county auditor in Ohio. During World War I, Gerald Karr Smith served under the National War Work Council as business secretary in the Y.M.C.A. at Camp Zachary Taylor in what is now Louisville, Kentucky. (2) He remained a secretary in the Y.M.C.A. for more than two decades afterward, for that was his occupation as late as 1942 when he filled out his draft card during World War II. By 1920, the year of the decennial census, Smith was in Chicago. There he seems to have remained, for the censuses of 1930 and 1940 have him there as well, as does the aforementioned draft card from 1942.

If Lawrence Beall Smith lived in the Carolinas as a child, that would appear to have been sometime prior to his father's service during World War I. Smith's time in Kentucky was very likely in the years 1917 to 1918 or 1919, when his father would have been stationed at Camp Taylor. After that, Chicago was his home and the place where he received his education. But for a time before the war, Lawrence Beall Smith lived in Indiana with his parents, and for that we can call him one of our own.

On his mother's side, Lawrence Beall Smith was at least one-fourth Hoosier. Leah Beall was the daughter of Alexander Beall and Arelia or Aurelia R. "Ora" McCarty Beall. Ora was born on June 12, 1852, in Indiana. On October 14, 1875, she married Alexander Beall, an Ohio native, in Grant County, Indiana. The couple lived in Van Wert County, Ohio, in 1880 and 1900. Alexander Beall did not make it to the next census--he died in 1908 and was buried in Adams County, Indiana. His widow followed him to the grave in 1914. Her place of death was on the opposite side of the state, in Vincennes, Indiana. Her son-in-law, Gerald Karr Smith, also of Vincennes, signed her death certificate, and she was laid to rest next to her husband at Mount Tabor Cemetery in Adams County.

Gerald Karr Smith returned to his native state sometime after 1942 and died in Bellefontaine, Ohio, on November 20, 1964. His wife survived him and passed away on March 29, 1979, in Cincinnati. The couple now lie side by side in Bellefontaine City Cemetery, not far from the highest point in Ohio.

To be continued . . .

(1) Contemporary American Painting has two additional features for each artist: a photographic portrait and a reproduction of his or her signature.
(2) F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Taylor as well.

Lawrence Beall Smith was an only child, a young man of childlike appearance, a father of three children, and an artist of childhood. Here are a few of his prints on the subject of children and childhood, first, "Frolic," from 1948. 

"Victory Day, Clam Diggers," from 1946. This one reminds me of the Maine books of Robert McCloskey.

"Child and Cherubs" (1949).

"Party Chutes" (1952).

"Windy Hill" (1948).

"Forest Flight" (1949).

Finally, an oil painting, "Observing the Game" (date unknown).

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

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