Art 101: My Life As An Artist

February 4episode

Embrace collaboration with mother-son team Clarice + 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 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.

In this podcast interview we discuss:

  • Where Clarice gets her inspiration and motivation for her internationally-renowned artwork.
  • How David and Clarice came to write their first book together, “Afternoon Tea with Mom.”
  • How this mother-and-son team work together.
  • What advice they have for other parent-child teams.
  • What they are working on next. And more …

Download our podcast interview with Clarice and David Bruce Smith, at right.

  • Want a sneak peak? Scroll down for more.
  • Want to read about David Smith’s additional collaboration with George Washington University English professor and author Faye Moskowitz? Learn more about their big project, Jewish Literature Live.


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: 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.

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