Madeline Smith, photo courtesy of Pearl S. Buck International, James A. Michener Art Museum Library.
BORN: January 10, 1920, Trenton, NJ
“A piece of sculpture emanates from such deep personal introspection that it truly is a part of the artist."
Born in Trenton, NJ in 1920, Madeline Smith first manifested an interest in drawing in elementary school. She graduated from the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut in 1964 and then went on to receive private instruction from several noted artists, among them Dr. Jacques M. Dowling, Ben Soloway, William A. Smith, Helen McCook, and Dr. Selma Burke. Although Smith began her career as a painter, she soon switched disciplines and devoted herself to sculpting.
Smith experimented with a wide variety of mediums, including clay, stone, stainless steel, alabaster, and bronze. She developed a knack for portrait sculptures and grew skilled at working from live models, many of whom were family members. Smith encourages her models to converse and behave naturally when they pose for a head-in-the-round or bas-relief, as this allows her to observe their natural expressions, producing a more relaxed portrait. In Smith’s opinion, children make excellent models since they are generally more animated than adults. Smith also takes into account an individual’s bone structure when choosing a model because a clearly defined bone structure yields the best results.
Once a model has been selected, a typical portrait head requires Smith two months to finish. The first step in the process is to sculpt a clay form of the head, which Smith does over the course of four to six 2-hour sessions. Next, she takes a mold from the clay form and allows it to dry. Once the mold is properly dry, Smith pours in her medium of choice, which likewise must dry completely before the patina can be applied. Given the time-consuming nature of her method, Smith’s policy is to only accept two commissions per year. This enables her to make a living while still having ample time to spend on projects of personal interest.
Smith’s early exposure to drawing has proved very important to her sculpting. Smith believes that drawing is the backbone of sculpture and that a firm grasp of anatomy, bone, and muscle structure is indispensable. Smith is vocal advocate of sculpture as an art genre, which she considers to be underappreciated in the art world, and she particularly champions the cause of female sculptors.
Smith has exhibited widely in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including solo exhibitions at the Pennridge Art Gallery, the Woodmere Art Museum, the Warminster Free Library, and the Lambertville House. Her work is represented in several permanent collections, notably those of the Museo Nazionale dell’Academia Italia in Florence and the Richard Nixon Library. One of Smith’s most famous commissions is the design for the Pearl S. Buck Women’s Award, which features an Amerasian child holding a rice bowl and is presented annually to a woman who has done much to improve the quality of life for children worldwide. Smith has been the recipient of several awards for her sculpture and in 1972 was invited to the White House to present her bas-relief of President Nixon.