Sunday, September 16, 2012


This concludes my week of unpublished drawings from the sketchbooks of William A. Smith.  Such drawings provide a very different perspective on an artist than what we might learn from finished paintings in museums or books.

The sketchbooks themselves are an impressive body of work-- large stacks of binders, lovingly worn from all of the effort lavished upon them over the decades, battered from being transported on military planes, horse carts, trains and buses around the world.

Sleeping passengers became a favorite subject for Smith.

Sandwiched between the working drawings, the sketchbooks contained addresses, bus schedules, translations of key phrases Smith used for getting around in foreign languages, and notes of all kinds.

A small poster tucked into one of the sketchbooks from a military post overseas.

Storage depot in Mandalay

No corporate sponsor would ever commission drawings of the thousands of anonymous subjects that Smith met along the road.  Smith immortalized them out of love-- occasionally out of love for the subject, but mostly out of love for drawing.


Tororo said...

Quite a week! I will miss this daily dose of William Smith drawings. Is any collection of these sketches scheduled for printing?

Journeyman said...

Thanks for the week, well worth a daily look.

Milton said...

Those were terrific, thank you very much.

Tom said...

Yes, thanks a lot David for a great week of posts!

Anonymous said...


AJA said...

I love looking at the sketchbooks of artists. They're often more interesting than the artist's public work (Chris Ware, R. Crumb). David, this is a high point for this blog, which is definitely saying something.

I was wondering if you could tell me how the opportunity to look at these sketchbooks came.

अर्जुन said...

The sleeping passengers may be my favourite. Adolphe Menjou?

Untitled said...

What a week. And what a collection!

Thank you very much David for these and your reply to my question earlier! I would also like to thank Smiths family for so generously sharing these.

Alex said...

The fluency and observation of these sketches remind me of the style of Noel Sickles.

Kathlin Smith said...

Thank you, David, for devoting this past week to dad's sketches. It has been a real treat for us -- it is like looking at the work with new eyes. We so appreciate your comments, and the comments of those who have viewed and responded to the blog.

The sketchbooks sat for years untouched; it was only this summer, as we prepared to move my mother, that my sister and I reviewed them. We were pleased to show them to David -- whom we've known for some years now -- when he expressed interest, and even more pleased when he said he'd like to feature the sketches in a weeklong blog.

There are no plans at present to publish the sketches, but that could change. We are giving most of the sketchbooks, along with dad's archives and some of the remaining working sketches, to the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA, which mounted a retrospective exhibition of dad's work in 1996.

The Smith archives will be open to those who are interested in seeing them, and I hope that there might be some opportunity for additional digitizing projects or exhibitions.

David Apatoff said...

Tororo, Journeyman, Milton, Tom and anonymous-- Thanks so much, I'm glad you share my enthusiasm for these wonderful drawings. There was so much material, it would have been just as easy to do a month's worth of posts (in fact easier, because I wouldn't have to worry about what I was leaving out).

AJA-- I agree with you, sketchbooks are so intimate, they afford us a rare glimpse into the artist "behind the scenes." Some artists turn out to be disappointing when you see this side of them, but Bill Smith is even more impressive. Kathlin Smith's comment above answers your question about how I came to discover these sketchbooks. Smith's two splendid young daughters took custody of them and will make sure they are available for future generations.

अर्जुन-- I had the exact same reaction, but the drawing was from a sketchbook drawn in Russia so it is unlikely that it was Adolphe Menjou. I really like the hands in that picture.

jpleon said...

Beautiful work. I've never heard of Smith. These are just great. Thank you for posting them.

Kim Smith said...

I have a few of my favorite of Dad's sketchbooks here in California to scan, and I will be sending the scans to David who has been so kind to feature Dad's work several times. I have two sketchbooks from Dad and Mom's time in Paris, '49 and '50, when Dad went on the GI bill and spent two years, pretty much doing non-commercial work. I found the sketches in these books to be VERY fascinating because the style is more experimental, and I must say, extremely successful. Also have a book to scan which appears to be from the 30s. Fun to see Dad's stylistic development. Somewhere in the archives we have drawings from when he was a student with Theodore Keane.

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