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Arts & Culture

The World Through the Eyes of a UMD Benefactor

Clarice Smith’s Paintings Go on Display at Her Namesake Building

By Sala Levin ’10

three paintings hang on wall as woman works in gallery

Six paintings by Clarice Smith were installed yesterday in her namesake building, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The exhibition honors the artistic side of the late philanthropist, who, along with her family, generously supported UMD.

Photo by Eric Kruszewski

The philanthropic legacy of the Smith family is visible across the University of Maryland campus, from the Robert H. Smith School of Business to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Now, Terps can get a glimpse of a different Smith family heritage: Clarice Smith’s artistic one.

Six of her paintings went on display yesterday in her namesake building. The temporary exhibition coincides with a tribute concert later this month to honor the impact the Smiths have made on the university—which also includes professorships, scholarships, and support for research and programs. The paintings give visitors a more intimate view of her life and interests outside of philanthropy.

“My mother always said that she painted what she knew,” said Smith’s son, David Bruce Smith. “I think if you look at her work, you get a sense of who she was. She liked flowers, she liked horses, she loved us, she liked beauty, and she was a real lady.”

Smith, who died in 2021, nurtured an artistic streak since childhood, according to her son. The daughter of parents who loved to entertain, young Clarice often grew bored of grown-up talk and amused herself by cutting paper dolls out of construction paper. At elementary school in Washington, D.C., the principal took note of Clarice’s talent and would frequently enlist her to add artistic flourishes to bulletin boards or classroom walls.

As an adult, Clarice began to pursue an artistic career in earnest after her three children were in high school. Smith, who had started her undergraduate studies at UMD, went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from The George Washington University. There, professors Frank Wright and William Woodword “taught her about mood, composition and color, and she learned from those classes how to really mix colors and use them to her advantage artistically,” said David.

Soon, she blossomed, eventually showing her work at galleries in New York City, London, Paris and Jerusalem. An admirer of the Impressionistic portraitists John Singer Sargent and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Smith was interested in “trying to capture the essence of life rather than life in its exactitude,” said Taras W. Matla, director of the UMD Art Gallery, who co-curated the installation with Ph.D. candidate Melanie Woody Nguyen.

Clarice’s work returned often to her beloved subjects: vases of flowers, the canals of Venice, horses resting in stables or in a blaze of motion during a race. But her favorite subject of all? “My father,” said David Bruce Smith.

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