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Anita M. Smith: Artist/Historian of the Woodstock Art Colony

Updated: Mar 27

By Bruce Weber

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Self-Portrait, c. 1925

Anita M. Smith Collection


Anita M. Smith is best remembered today as the author of Woodstock History and Hearsay. This landmark publication appeared in 1959, when Smith was in her mid-60s, and nearing the last decade of her remarkable life. Her interest in the history of Woodstock followed in the wake of her decision to settle there in 1913, and seek an active career as a visual artist. During the period from about 1915-1930, Smith showed her landscapes of Woodstock and various other locales at the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as at the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Louisville Art Association, the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts, and locally at the Maverick Concert Hall, the Woodstock Artists Association, and other venues. Smith was known as a warm and devoted friend, who looked “on the sunny side of life, with a la-de-da voice, faultless vocabulary, and gracious manners.”(1)


Anita Miller Smith was born on October 20, 1893, at Wyndlawn, the Smith family estate in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, a posh suburb of Philadelphia. She was the daughter of Henry Cavalier Smith and Lucy Pancoast Miller Smith -- a patrician family of considerable wealth. Henry’s parents were Jesse Evans Smith and Martha Knight Smith. His maternal grandmother descended from the Quaker family of Giles Knight and Mary English Knight, who came to Philadelphia in 1682 with William Penn’s fleet of ships. Giles became a prosperous businessman, and acquired a large tract of land in what later became known as Torresdale.


Following Jesse Smith’s death in 1892, Henry was bequeathed a fortune of $208,000 (the equivalent of about three million dollars today), and assumed control of Wyndlawn.(2) Anita and her family often summered at Wyndlawn, and lived the rest of the year at their house in Rittenhouse Square in central Philadelphia. A young socialite, Anita attended tea dances and similar social diversions. Later in life she explained “I was born in Philadelphia of Quaker people. There is an awful lot of it in me . . . .”(3)


In 1909, Smith studied art with Benedict Anton Osnis. The Russian-born painter studied with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League of New York, and established his reputation with a series of likenesses of superintendents of the United States Military Academy. Osnis was known as an inspiring teacher, who helped “lift” his students toward accomplishment.(4) At a talk at the Woman’s Club of Stonehurst in Chester, Pennsylvania, he urged women to express themselves through painting, and pointed out that “most homes have musical instruments but few people use painting as a means of expression.”(5)

Ferruccio Scattola (1873-1950)

Beach at Venice, n.d.


Smith frequently traveled abroad with her family. In 1910 she traveled with her mother Lucy to Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa, and they made stops along the way for Anita to study art, as well as visit museums, galleries and archeological sites. In April, Smith entered the Academie Julian in Paris, where she studied with Jean Paul-Laurens. In June, she joined the atelier of Ferruccio Scattola in Venice. In October, Smith became part of the atelier of Nicola Forcella in Cairo. In November, she attended the British Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. It was probably during their stay in Rome that Anita’s mother purchased an ancient mask that was discovered near the Bridge of the St. Angelo, which she later donated for the decoration of the fountain in the park at Rittenhouse Square.(6)

Unknown Photographer

Anita M. Smith, c. 1912-1913

Anita M. Smith Collection


In the summer of 1912, Smith traveled to upstate New York to study with John F. Carlson at the Art Students League of New York’s Woodstock School of Landscape Painting. She now made a clean break from her privileged life in Philadelphia, and made a serious commitment to being an artist. She paid her expenses with money she had planned to use to purchase a ball gown. Smith later related that she decided she “wanted to paint. And I knew I’d have to leave Philadelphia to do that. So I came up . . . to the mountains to stay a month. That was 30 years ago. . . .(7) She had became familiar with the Catskills during the course of summertime trips to the family’s cottage in Haines Falls, some twenty miles north of Woodstock.(8)

Unknown Photographer

John F. Carlson, Unknown Woman, and

Anna M. Smith Painting, c. 1912-1913

Anita M. Smith Collection


In the fall of 1912, Smith moved to New York City where she studied painting at the Arts Students League with William Merritt Chase and Frank Vincent du Mond. In the summer of 1913, she returned to Carlson’s class and settled in Woodstock. A photograph in the Smith estate feature's Carlson standing in a field giving instruction to an unidentified woman student, and Smith seated nearby working on a painting. During her first years in town, the artist roomed at the boarding house of Ella Riseley in the hamlet of Rock City, and lived in a stable on the Old Riseley homestead further up the road on Overlook Mountain.(9)

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Rock City Snow, 1919

Carlson Family Archives


Smith recalled her early period of study and artistic activity in Woodstock: “There was such serious work in those days! We’d think nothing of walking five miles to Lake Hill, say, carrying full equipment and bringing back a 20 x 30 landscape with us. And, like as not, throw off a sunset sketch when we got home. Then moon around in the moonlight on something else. . . . Every night there were dances, or meetings at which we discussed over and over again, ‘What is art?’ We worked in converted chicken coops and barns. Then after our student days we got studios for ourselves . . . .”(10) She also reported that in time there wouldn’t be a trace of Philadelphia society “left in me.”(11)

Unknown Photographer

Anita M. Smith Exhibition,

Maverick Concert Hall, August 6th, 1917

Anita M. Smith Collection


An exhibition of Smith’s landscape paintings was held in the summer of 1917 in the Maverick Concert Hall in nearby West Hurley. It was one of a series of summer exhibitions of single artists and groups of artists held in the hall in the late teens. Among other to have solo showings during the period were Carl Eric Lindin, William Emile Schumacher, Catherine Watkins, Alfred Hutty, Marion Bullard, Henry Mattson and Eugene Speicher. A photograph of Smith’s exhibition reveals her early efforts in landscape painting, when she worked under the combined influence of Carlson and Birge Harrison.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968) Village Trees, by 1917

Anita M. Smith Collection

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Woodstock Sky (Summer Sky), by 1917

Anita M. Smith Collection

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Winter Sketch, c. 1918

Anita M. Smith Collection


Smith followed Carlson’s example in choosing to paint groupings of trees, apply pure tones in juxtaposed color masses, and ground her works in a solid pictorial structure. Alternatively, she followed Harrison’s example in creating landscapes picturing spare bits of nature, emphasizing abstract design, and organizing her palette around a single dominant hue.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968) Birge Harrison’s House, Chestnut Hill Road, Woodstock, c. 1925

Anita M. Smith Collection


Harrison directed the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting from 1906 to 1910, when he turned his outdoor painting class over to Carlson. Following his retirement from teaching, Harrison maintained a strong presence in the art community, and provided advice and guidance to young artists and students. Woodstock remained his primary residence, though he spent time in different locales, including Charleston, South Carolina and New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

New Hope, c. 1918-1919

Anita M. Smith Collection


Smith’s association with Harrison may have led to her making a visit to Charleston sometime between 1915 and 1918, and to New Hope in 1918 and 1919. During the course of the early 1920s, she also paid visits to the art colonies of Cape Ann and Provincetown, Massachusetts. New Hope was the center of an important art colony for American Impressionist painting. A whole school of landscape painters worked in the Bucks County town, among them Daniel Garber, William Lathrop, Edward Redfield, Walter E. Schofield, George Sotter, Rae Sloan Bredin, Walter Emerson Braun and Fern Coppence, John Folinsbee and Harrison’s son-in-law Robert Spencer.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

House in the Dunes, c. 1919

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


In 1919, Smith was honored in her home town by the acquisition of her New Hope landscape Houses in the Dunes from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art’s 114th annual exhibition by trustees of the institution’s Lambert Fund. The fund was established by the artist John Lambert, who left $50,000 in his will for the purchase of pictures for the Academy’s collection from its annual exhibitions. He hoped the fund would be used for pictures by younger artists who had “not yet made standard reputations.”(12)

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

The Wood Pile, 1923

Private Collection

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Red Barns in Shady, c. 1923

Private Collection


In the early 1920s, Smith moved into a house and studio overlooking Cooper Lake in Lake Hill. In the foreground of her landscapes featuring picturesque glimpses of the hamlets of Lake Hill, Shady and Bearsville, she regularly included figures who personify the rural inhabitants of the countryside. By this time, Smith had come to believe it was of critical importance for local artists to dig into the history of the countryside. She “didn’t see how one could paint the Catskills without knowing something of the people who lived among them. . . .,” or how one could paint without wishing “to know why the fields were where they were and why the fences were where they were.”(13)

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Hercules Davis, c. 1925

Anita M. Smith Collection


Among the local people whom Smith grew close to was Rosie Magee, who ran a boarding house and eatery in Woodstock which was popular among artists of the town, and the Lake Hill farmer Hercules Davis. In the course of the 1920s, she executed a painting of the Magee farm (location unknown), and a full-length likeness of Davis standing in front of a barn with a view of mountains and houses in the distance. After meeting Davis and learning of his boyhood courtship of Magee, Smith and her artist neighbor Carla R. Atkinson arranged to reunite the two (see my blog “Rosie ‘Mother’ Magee: Ministering Angel of the Early Woodstock Art Colony”). In 1924, Smith exhibited Shady Village at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design, and showed Shady Barns at the institution in the following year.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Shady Barns, 1922

Private Collection


In 1926, Smith traveled to the south of France, and painted landscapes on her travels to Arles, Avignon, Cagnes, Les Baux and St. Paul du Var. During the course of the next few years she worked under the modified influence of the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne. She adopted a more imaginative and playful compositional approach, tilting and distorting perspectives, and imbuing her canvases with the lively and earthy spirit of American folk art. Like her fellow Woodstock landscape painter Carl Eric Lindin, Smith’s works of the 1920s often feature undulating hills and mountains, swaying rooflines, and slanting trees.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

European Landscape. c. 1927

Anita M. Smith Collection

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Lake Hill Bridge, c. 1926

Private Collection


During the 1920s, Smith began to look deeper into the history and folklore of the community. In time she gained the trust of longtime families in the area. She found that “breaking into mountain society was genuinely difficult. When she eventually was invited by the mountain people to their quilting and wedding parties her gratification was complete, and she knew for once the real thrill of being ‘accepted’ in exclusive society.”(14) In 1931, Smith presented the first in a series of papers on the history of Woodstock to the Historical Society of Woodstock, which were later incorporated into her 1959 book, Woodstock History and Hearsay. Based on detailed and thorough scholarship, the publication covers the period from Native American times through the first decades of the art colony, and features a broad-ranging collection of folk stories, gathered from Catskill Mountain families and resident artists.

Unknown Photographer

Richard Le Gallienne, c. 1910


Smith’s contributions to the research and writing of local history followed in the wake of the British author and poet Richard Le Gallienne’s publication in 1923 on the history of Woodstock and the early years of the art colony, commissioned by the Woodstock Art Association. Following Le Gallienne’s death in 1947, Smith wrote a letter to the Kingston Daily Freeman about the writer’s time in the area. She recalled the movement of his tall figure through town and on mountain paths, and noted that he originally came to Woodstock because of the beauty of the Catskill Mountains. She also recalled Le Gallienne’s friendship with the poet Bliss Carmen, who had a home close by in Haines Falls, near her family’s cottage. She explained that Carmen was a close friend of the family, and that “his kind influence flamed my passionate love of the countryside”(15).


In 1929, Smith received a share of her mother’s estate amounting to $20,000.(16) She utilized a portion of her inheritance to construct a bluestone house on the former apple orchard of Rosie Magee (who passed away in 1927), located on the east side of Meads Mountain Road, a short distance north of the crossroads of Rock City Road and the Glasco Turnpike. Smith designed the house herself, and worked with a team of local laborers. The second wing of the house, which faces what once was part of the apple orchard, is modeled after a French chateau. Clark Neher, the father of André Neher of the Woodstock Building Supply, was the lead builder.(17) Interestingly, the structure dates from slightly after the construction in the Highwoods section of Saugerties of the sculpture Tomas Penning’s bluestone house, built with the help of a group of skilled quarrymen, who remained living in the area following the dimming of demand for the region’s rich deposits of bluestone at the end of the 19th century.

Former House of Anita Smith. Meads Mountain Road, Woodstock


Smith abandoned painting following a three month trip to Mexico in 1930, where she created a group of landscapes of the scenery of Taxco de Alarcon. She spent a month in Taxco attending fiestas and "climbing up and down the cobbled streets of the town." (18) Several weeks were also spent at Lake Pátzcuaro. Smith traveled in the company of Alice Henderson, who from about 1920 to 1930 served as the director of the American Training School for French Nurses in Bordeaux, France. In 1930 she moved to Woodstock, first settling in Byrdcliffe before residing intermittently with Smith, and becoming a prominent figure in local civic affairs The two journeyed across Mexico by car over the Pan American Highway.


Smith's inheritance liberated her from struggling economically during the rough years of the Great Depression, when Woodstock, and American artists in general, regularly sought out economic relief by joining government sponsored programs, such as the Federal Art Project. Smith’s serious devotion to local history, and formation of a successful business selling herbs, played key roles in keeping her from returning to painting.

Herb Cottage, Woodstock,

Where Anita M. Smith

Wrote Woodstock History and Hearsay


Charles Rosen (1878-1950)

Observation Post, early 1940s

Anita M. Smith Collection


During World War II, Smith served as the Chief Observer for the United States Army Air Force First Fighter Committee, a Civil Defense program of the U.S. Army that was implemented to help protect American territory against potential air attack. She was responsible for overseeing the observation post the committee constructed on her property. During the course of the war she was successful in signing up more than one hundred spotters to assist her with naked eye and binocular searches to detect potential German or Japanese aircraft. Over the course of her life in Woodstock, Smith was involved in various local organizations. She served as a longtime trustee of the Woodstock Public Library, where she headed the book committee, and as an officer of the Historical Society of Woodstock, and the Woodstock Guild of Artists.

Anita M. Smith (1893-1968)

Zero Weather, 1923

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Anita Miller Smith died on May 21, 1968 at the age of 74. In her art and writing she captured the beauty, history, and vital essence of Woodstock. She died just short of witnessing the first fruits of the Woodstock Artists Association’s efforts to build a permanent collection devoted to the achievement of the historic Woodstock art colony. In 2019 the association added Smith’s captivating Zero Weather to its collection. The painting was donated by Weston Blelock and his sister, Julia Blelock, executors of the artist’s estate, who reside in Smith’s former home on Meads Mountain Road, and who have helped to keep Smith’s legacy alive in the town to which she contributed so much.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I would like to thank several people for their valuable assistance in researching, producing and writing this piece. First, I would like to thank Weston Blelock and his sister Julia Blelock for generously sharing images, information, and their knowledge of Anita M. Smith’s art and life. Kim Apolant, Librarian, Woodstock Public Library, Barbara Carlson, and Mikhail Horowitz also were extremely helpful.


(1) Louise Jonas, “Debutante, Anita Smith, Chose to Become Ulster Herbalist,”

Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker, November 22, 1942, p. 5A; “Obituary: Anna M. Smith,” Ulster County Townsman, June 6, 1968, p. 6.

(2) Pascal James Imperato, Quest for the Jade Sea: Colonial Competition Around an East African Lake (Abington, England: Routledge, 2018), p.106

(3) Louise Jonas, “Debutante, Anita Smith, Chose to Become Ulster Herbalist,”

Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker, November 22, 1942, p. 5A

(4) Grace Stine, Hall “Artist or Shoemaker? Osnis Tells Wherein They Differ,” The Miami News Herald, March 20, 1927, p. 16.

(5) “Well Known Artist Addresses Club,” Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania), November 6, 1940, p.

(6) “Pastorious Statue Design Accepted,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 8, 1913, p. 11.

(7) Jonas, p. 5A.

(8) Anita M. Smith, “Letter on Le Gallienne,” The Kingston Daily Freeman, September 23, 1947,

p. 13.

(9) Anita M. Smith, Woodstock History and Hearsay (Woodstock, New York: Woodstock Arts, 2006), p. 124. Smith’s book was first published in 1959 by the Catskill Mountain Corporation in Saugerties, New York.

(10) Jonas, p. 5A.

(11) Ibid.

(12) “Women Win Five of Six Honors,” otherwise unidentified newspaper article, Anita M. Smith Collection.

(13) Jonas, p. 5A.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Anita M. Smith, “Letter on Le Gallienne,” p. 13.

(16) “Lake Hill Woman Inherits,” Kingston Daily Freeman, March 28, 1929, p. 20

(17) Email from Weston Blelock to Bruce Weber, January 4, 2021.

(18) "Return from Three Months Mexico Tour," The Overlook, April 5, 1940, p. 5.

(19) "Alice Henderson Dies After Long Illness," Catskill Mountain Star, July 2, 1954, p. 3.



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