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Frank Vining Smith

 (1879 - 1967)
Frank Vining Smith was active/lived in Massachusetts.  Frank Smith is known for marine-ship, wildlife, illustration.

Frank Vining Smith

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following is from Sandra Burke of Belchertown, Massachusetts.  She is a relative and collector of the work of the artist.

Frank Vining Smith, we affectionately called him "Smithy", was a distant cousin of mine. Although somewhat far-removed on the family tree, we were very close.  I spent the greater part of my childhood summers, from age four on, with Smithy and his family.  For many years he resided with his wife Nella Lesta Bonney, her sister Florence Bonney, and their dear friend, Ednah Blanchard at their High Street home in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Smithy painted murals on the dining room walls of the house in Hingham.  On the west wall he created a typical New England harbor scene, a great brigantine anchored in the forefront, sails half lowered and lazily flapping in the breeze, and in the far distance, a clipper beating its way into the harbor.  On the north wall he created a more distant harbor (most likely Canton), with a large Chinese junk, red sails underway.  A South Sea island, with swaying palm trees and a schooner on the horizon, occupied the east wall of the dining room.

During the 1940s and 1950's Smithy and his family summered at Oyster Pond in Falmouth on Cape Cod.  I spent a good many happy hours aboard the houseboat he kept moored in Quissett Harbor there.  Boats and water were always central to Frank Vining Smith's life.  In addition to his painting, Smithy loved the sea and was himself an accomplished seafarer with almost 70 years of sailing to his credit.  During his lifetime he owned and sailed sixteen different yachts.

Although the majestic sailing ships, which formed the best known subject matter for his paintings, had all but vanished before his day, they were by no means unknown to Frank Vining Smith. He studied the records of the ocean frigates, the great clippers, and Western Ocean packets extensively, and never placed a ship in a picture that did not include the authentic details of a vessel which had actually been built and sailed. His paintings were renowned for their accuracy and painstaking technical detail, the culmination of many years of exhaustive research on the part of the artist. His personal marine library contained nearly 300 volumes, hundreds of old photographs and illustrations, and a number of ship blueprints.

Frank Vining Smith was born on August 25, 1879 in South Abington, Massachusetts, the son of Franklin Milton and Sarah Porter Vining Smith. His parents separated and Frank spent his childhood being cared for by his mother, grandmother, and sister, Susan.  South Abington eventually became Whitman, renamed after Frank's great grandfather, Jared Whitman.  As a boy, Frank spent summers with his grandfather at his cottage on Monument Beach in Buzzards Bay, "where" Frank said, " I acquired my love for the water and boats. I swam at six and was sailing at ten years of age."

Frank graduated from Whitman High School in 1897.  He spent the next two years at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts where he studied under Frank W. Benson (1862-1951), Philip L. Hale (1865-1931), and Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938).  The following year he studied painting at the Central Ontario School of Design in Toronto.  He later moved to New York and attended the Art Students League in New York City, while employed as a newspaper artist and cartoonist for the McClure newspaper syndicate.

During his early career he held illustrating positions at the Boston Herald and the Boston Journal, eventually becoming head of the Journal's art department.  Between assignments, Frank continued to pursue his love of painting, producing covers for the National Sportsman and other magazines.  He drew cartoons for the Boston Globe from 1909-1910.  During World War I, he worked for the U.S. Shipping Board as a camouflage artist.

Frank held the position of staff artist at the Boston Sunday Herald until 1925 when, in his mid-forties, he quit the position to dedicate himself to a full time painting career.  The artist estimated that he painted over one thousand marine canvases during his lifetime.  He said, "You see, my newspaper training taught me to work swiftly. I work very fastI believe I turn out a painting in about half the time the average artist takes."

In 1938 he and his wife, Nella Lesta Bonney settled into their new home at 64 High Street in Hingham Massachusetts.  Here Smithy devoted long hours to painting in his home studio with its large windows and northern exposure.  When he wasn't at his easel, he could be found working in the flower gardens just outside the studio.

He was a member of the Guild of Boston Artists and a four-time winner of the Richard Mitton Gold Medal Award in the Jordan Marsh New England Artist's Show.  One-man exhibitions of his paintings have been held in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New York.  His marine paintings still hang in museums and private collections from coast to coast.  He was a former rear commodore and lifetime member of the Cruising Club of America, and enjoyed memberships in both New Bedford and Hingham Yacht Clubs.

On June 12, 1954, the artist's beloved wife Nella died, thus beginning Smithy's declining years.  Later that same year he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and in 1958 was successfully operated on for cancer.  Four years later he suffered a slight shock and began referring to himself as an "armchair sailor".  In spite of his failing health, and although frequently plagued by double vision, the artist continued to turn out canvases until the last few years of his life.

On July 30, 1967 Frank Vining Smith died at his home, with lifelong friend Ednah Blanchard by his side.  The Reverend Donald Robinson, pastor of the Second Parish Church of Hingham said of the artist, "he was great in his chosen work and yet equally great in his simple humanity", a sentiment shared by all of us who were fortunate enough to have known him.

Books and Articles used in this research:

The Golden days of Sail - A Retrospective Exhibition of The Art of Frank Vining Smith. Exhibition Catalog, Copyright 1975 by the Trustees of Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Sandwich, Massachusetts Printed by Leyden Press, Inc., Plymouth, Massachusetts Catalog size: 36 pages; 41 black and white photographs

1956 Patriot Ledger Newspaper article:
Never A Flaw in Painted Rigging: Tributes of Ancient Mariners Rich Reward to Hingham Artist, written by Fred Hunt, Patriot Ledger Staff Reporter.

Biography from the Archives of askART
During World War I, Frank Vining Smith was a civilian ship camouflage artist, initially in New York, and then, in April 1918, at the Delaware River District in Philadelphia, where, working under District Camoufleur Harold E. Austin, he helped to set up its camouflage branch.  In preparing for this, he had earlier been assigned to work closely in New York with British marine artist and head camoufleur Norman Wilkinson.

William Bell Clark on "Camouflage Painting on the Delaware" in Philadelphia in the World War 1914-1919. NY: Philadelphia War History Committee 1922 (pp. 318-322).  

Submitted by Roy R. Behrens. 

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About  Frank Vining Smith

Born:  1879 - South Abington, Massachusetts
Died:   1967 - Hingham, Massachusetts
Known for:  marine-ship, wildlife, illustration

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Frank Vining Smith

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