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Cotton, 1912-1922
Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876–1958)

View Artist Bio
Watercolor on paper
8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches (sight)
Signature Details: Alice R.H. Smith
Status: Available

 I'm thinking that this is again an earlier work sometime between 1912-1922, maybe during the last five years of that period:  1915-1922.  It evidences a maturity and an assurance along with a better evocation of mood.  Alice was mainly known for painting scenes of rice fields, marches, swamps, and occasionally beaches or seascapes.  She related well to water. But this is an inland scene.  And it's cotton.  How come?

Well, at that time, Alice's father worked with cotton.  Not growing it, but selling it.  He was a cotton factor (aka merchant) from the 1870s to the early 1920s.  He traveled repeatedly all across the European continent and to Great Britain to drum up business.  And he developed a passion for attending art exhibits there, an enthusiasm that may have later influenced his daughter who was born in 1876.  Cotton production reached a peak in 1911.  But by about 1922 it was devastated in South Carolina due to the Boll Weevil.  Soon thereafter, Alice's father's cotton business failed.

I know of only a couple of times that Alice depicted cotton.  First, she assisted her cousin Sabina Wells in producing illustrations for "Verses from the Cotton Boll" by Henry Timrod, a booklet drawn in the manner of Aubrey Beardsley and sold at the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition of 1901-1902 in Charleston.  Sabina Wells got the full credit for that, but when she wrote a college application letter later, she mentioned Alice's assistance in an off-handed way.  I'll paraphrase her comments:  "When I got to a certain point in one illustration, I didn't know how to proceed.  And my cousin Alice said, 'Don't you see? Just this way.'  And she solved the problem."

The second time that I know Alice produced a cotton image was when she did a woodblock around 1919 entitled "Cotton Picker at Twilight."  When she did it, she may have been thinking of her significant other Motte Alston Read who had inspired her to study Oriental Art and whose family had become wealthy in the Houston, Texas, area where they processed cotton seed oil.  She called him Alston, and he died suddenly in 1920 from a heart attack.  I think he was 48 years old, and his passing hit her hard.

She stopped painting for a couple of years, but began cataloging his extensive collection of Japanese woodblocks, studying Oriental techniques intensively, and becoming the really wonderful artist that she would be.  So, now let me give an even more exact date for this work:  1922.  It's a work of remembrance in so many ways.  And of new beginnings, too.

The Julia Homer Wilson/Juran Collection of Small Works by Alice R. Huger Smith – Some Thoughts

By Dwight McInvaill, author with Caroline Palmer & Anne Tinker of Alice: Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Charleston Renaissance Artist (Middleton Place Foundation/Evening Post Books, 2021)—July 22, 2022




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