• February 2013

The Art of Collaboration: Clarice Smith and David Bruce Smith

Internationally renowned artist Clarice Smith is described by critics as enigmatic and prolific. Her portraits, florals, landscapes, and still-lifes are painted with convincing reality.

For decades, collectors around the world have gobbled up her artwork after attending her numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel.

Artist Clarice Smith is also the wife of developer and philanthropist Robert H. Smith, whose father founded Charles E. Smith Co. in 1946. Robert and his brother-in-law, Robert P. Kogod, took over the company in 1967. Under their tutelage, it grew to become one of the largest commercial and residential landlords in the Washington, D.C., area, managing 24 million square feet of office space and more than 30,000 residential units.

The Smiths gave generously to the University of Maryland, College Park, which was Robert Smith’s alma mater. The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, was named in his honor in 1998 to recognize his gift of $15 million, the largest gift the school had ever received. The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, completed in 2001, is named for his wife, Clarice.

Being an artist has always been a driving force in Clarice Smith’s life. She added author to her list of credentials when she joined forces with her son, writer and publisher David Bruce Smith.

Among the many books they have written is their first project, “Afternoon Tea with Mom,” a book of 33 of her paintings that David compiled and gave to Clarice for her birthday in 1988; “Three Miles from Providence,” a tale about Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home; and “Tennessee,” a limited edition, four-color letterpress three-volume collection that contains the first publication of Tennessee Williams’ newly discovered play, “These Are the Stairs You Got to Watch.”

And most recently, they wrote their first children’s book: “American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States,” which hits bookstores in March 2013.

So it was a pleasure to sit down with David and Clarice and celebrate their collaboration in our February 2013 Power Couples issue of Be Inkandescent magazine. We wanted to find out how this mother-and-son team work together, and what advice they have for other parent-child teams.

  • Scroll down to read our interview.


Be Inkandescent: What inspired you to become an artist, Clarice?

Clarice Smith: I have always been an artist. That was my main interest growing up, and I have always drawn. As early as the 1st grade, if somebody needed a picture of the Easter Bunny, I would raise my hand and say, “I can do that!”

After high school, I went on to Maryland University to take art courses—and then I got married and had a baby, so I only had two years of college. When my three children were growing up, I decided it was time to get my art degree. I enrolled in the Corcoran Art School, and after a few weeks I started complaining about the lack of formal instruction. It was very artsy there, and I used to joke that if I wanted to spray spaghetti, I could do that at home with my kids.

That’s when I started exploring other options, and thanks to a reciprocal program that the Corcoran had with The George Washington University, which was down the street, I found a class called Methods and Materials. It was exactly what I wanted. In fact, the head of the GW Art Department at that time had been one of my favorite instructors at Maryland University, so I knew I was in the right place. I ended up graduating from GW with my master’s degree, and then went on to teach portrait painting there for years.

Be Inkandescent: You have also had a lot of success showing and selling your work. Tell us a little bit about that accomplishment.

Clarice Smith: My paintings have been in galleries and shows in Paris, Israel, London, Zurich, and so many other cities. In fact, I was at an event at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington, D.C., a couple of months ago, and a man was visiting from Zurich. He has an extensive Old Masters collection, and he mentioned to the curator that he has one of my paintings, too—and that it is actually one of his favorite. That is nice to hear. He was a collector of Old Masters and he liked mine.

Be Inkandescent: Do you know which one it was?

Clarice Smith: Yes it was a patio scene from Italy overlooking a racecourse. The balcony is filled with turn-of-the-century furniture. There are no people in the scene, just the furniture, and the sun was casting a lovely light on the scene. Everything is calm and peaceful, and very nice.

Be Inkandescent: What inspires your art?

Clarice Smith: Painting is my life, and my paintings are a reflection of what I see, what I’m exposed to. I don’t paint sad pictures because I’d be making myself miserable while doing it. I think one of my saddest works was a painting of a cemetery in Prague—but it’s not actually sad looking. Rather, there is something romantic about it, filled with beautiful willows.

Be Inkandescent: David, how did you and your mother start working together?

David Bruce Smith: It was 25 years ago, and humorously, my mother wasn’t even aware of our first collaboration. I put together what I told her to be an album of 33 paintings of hers that I liked the best. We sat together and went through each painting, and I asked her, “How did you feel when you were painting that? Why?” Then, when she saw the collection again, it was a book.

Clarice Smith: It was a real surprise, and it increased my popularity right here in the Washington area because every mother I knew was so jealous that her child didn’t think about doing this for her.

Be Inkandescent: What came next?

David Bruce Smith: The next book was “Continuum,” which was our first artist book for National Museum for Women in the Arts. My mother had done a series of Venetian paintings, and I wrote the text to accompany them. Then she did a lithograph, an original lithograph, so the book could be sold at a higher price. The binding is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, because it was marbleized leather—something that hadn’t been done on a book in about 1,000 years.

Clarice Smith: I wanted that kind of leather because I wanted a sensuous-feeling cover, and there is a lot of water and reflection in the Venetian pictures. I wanted that to sort of carry over to the cover. The bookbinders did a fabulous job. They continue to be bestsellers at The National Museum of Women in the Arts.

*Be Inkandescent: You have also created a book for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, right?

David Bruce Smith: Right. That was “Tennessee,” and it was ready for the Kennedy Center’s performance of the revival of Tennessee Williams. They were putting on something called “Five by Tenn,” and in conjunction with that, we did a book that included three of this plays, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Glass Menagerie,” and “These Are the Stairs You Got to Watch,” which had never been published before.

Michael Kahn, who was the artistic director and a friend of Tennessee Williams, had a copy of the play and gave it to us. With those plays, there were three graphite and watercolor drawings, which were bound, and then there were three others that weren’t bound. It turned out to be a great book, and a few in the limited edition are still available.

Be Inkandescent: What’s it like to work together? Is there any friction between you? Do you have old stuff come up or is it just smooth?

David Bruce Smith: It is just good chemistry.

Clarice Smith: Except on the last book—but the problem wasn’t between us. Initially it was to be a children’s book for 4th graders, but then the publisher changed the approach and wanted it to be geared to 1st graders after David wrote a beautiful text, and I did 30 illustrations. Well, that is a different kind of writing. There is a formula and there are rules that you have to abide by when you are writing for young, young children like that. So David had to simplify everything, which meant that there were fewer sentences on a page. And that meant that there were 20 more drawings to do. I got pretty annoyed with that.

Be Inkandescent: Why did you choose to write a book about Justice John Marshall?

David Bruce Smith: We were actually commissioned to do it by The John Marshall Foundation. They approached me first, and my only request was that I work with my mother, which was fine for them, especially since they knew her work. It will be available on March 1 and we’re eager to see the finished product.

Be Inkandescent: David, you are a publisher in your own right, as the owner of David Bruce Smith Productions. Tell us about your production company, and what’s on the horizon.

David Bruce Smith: I’d love to work on more children’s books like this one, as well as books that are similar to Three Miles From Providence, which is about Abraham Lincoln.

Clarice Smith: We both like creating historical books because the facts and the people that come into it are real, so it’s fun to get involved with telling the story.

David Bruce Smith: I also like matching the cover to the time period. For instance, the book on Lincoln is bound in leather, like a pouch. I wanted something that would look masculine, and something that a Civil War soldier would carry. Actually, the soldiers did carry these pouches with “US” stamped on them. There was a strand to keep it shut, and that’s what our book has.

Clarice Smith: It’s great, and it’s available on David’s website, www.DavidBruceSmith.com.

Be Inkandescent: For other parent-child couples who want to work together, what advice do each of you have for how to do it well?

David Bruce Smith: For us, it was a series of fortunate events. It wasn’t planned, we simply embraced opportunities as they occurred.

Clarice Smith: I think, too, that when you do find ways to work together that it’s important to listen to what each other has to say, and not be so closed in on your own ideas.

Be Inkandescent: Have you found in any instances when that was really important?

Clarice Smith: With the drawings in our last book. That took a lot of patience on both our parts.

Be Inkandescent: Do you have another topic in mind for a future book?

David Bruce Smith: If the children’s book is a hit, we’d like to create a series of books about other American heroes, most of whom were John Marshall’s friends, such as John Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and James Monroe. That whole cadre was his gang.

Be Inkandescent: One last question about our February 2013 Truly Amazing Woman of the Month. This one is for David. Tell us what makes your mom truly amazing.

David Bruce Smith: I’ve told her many times that she is the Meryl Streep of artists. The reason is that each of her works is memorable, distinct, and seamlessly great. If you look at one of her compositions, be it a scene on a balcony or two women in a restaurant, the painting is so inviting that it makes you want to be in that place. The art lures you into whatever is happening.

Be Inkandescent: Clarice, what is it about your son that you think is amazing?

Clarice Smith: Well, I am overwhelmed after hearing what he says about me. David is an honorable, smart, good looking, fine citizen. He is also very talented, and very smart. He has good taste, and I’m very proud of the way he is leading his life. It is a lot of fun to work with him.

Be Inkandescent: You are definitely a power couple, and we appreciate your taking the time to talk with us.

For more information about Clarice Smith’s artwork, visit www.claricesmith.com

For details on Clarice and David’s books, visit www.davidbrucesmith.com.

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