WILLIAM A. SMITH painting CALVERT NEGOTIATING WITH THE INDIANS in his Pineville, Pennsylvania studio, circa. 1967.
Silvio A. Bedini, "The Survey of the Federal Territory: Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker," 76-95.
From the July 8, 2001 WASHINGTON POST
RESTORED MURAL SETTLES AT ST. MARY'S COLLEGE
by Nancy Trejos
They tell the story of Maryland's founding -- an artistic ode to the Ark and the Dove landing on the shores near what became St. Mary's City and Leonard Calvert negotiating a truce with native Indians.
William A. Smith began to create the mural and its two adjoining panels under a commission from the state of Maryland in 1966. Twenty years later, an artist hired to renovate the work made alterations without consulting Smith -- it was a touch up that touched off a controversy about the right of artists to decide how their work is preserved.
Now, much of the unwanted renovations have been undone and parts of the mural are newly restored. And 10 days ago, the Maryland Transportation Authority presented two of them to St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"My father died in 1989 without knowing what would become of his work," William Smith's daughter Kathlin told an audience of her relatives and state and local leaders at the presentation ceremony. "Today, I think [my father] would be relieved to see that these panels have been salvaged."
Two pieces of the mural -- titled "Lord Calvert's Negotiating with Native Americans" and "Ark and Dove" -- will permanently reside at the college's Kent Hall. They previously hung at the Maryland House travelers rest stop on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. Two other sections will arrive after their restoration is completed.
St. Mary's College President Jane Margaret O'Brien said the presence of the mural will further cement thecollege's connection to the city's history.
St. Mary's City is a fitting place for the mural and its adjoining parts, O'Brien said, because it was once Maryland's capital.
"To have murals depicting the founding itself is very meaningful," O'Brien said. "Our values derive from the place we inherit, which was founded for religious toleration. The principles of toleration, the separation of church and state, and representative government, we believe, inspire our students and faculty and alums."
The mural's story is as dramatic as the history that it depicts.
William Smith was born in Toledo. He took up art early, exhibiting his first work at age 13. He became known for his drawings, watercolors and oil paintings. His 1961 portrait of poet Carl Sandburg is on display at the National Portrait Gallery. He also designed 10 postage stamps.
But the Maryland mural was probably his largest work, at least in size. The mural and its panels were eventually to tell the story of the state's beginnings in 1634 in more than 1,000 square feet.
Smith painstakingly researched the history of his subjects for six months before picking up a paintbrush. His goal was to make the images as realistic as possible.
It wasn't easy because there were no available images of Leonard Calvert, the mural's main character. So Smith had to improvise. He based Leonard Calvert's features on those of his brother Cecil, whose portrait Smith found in other sources.
He visited historical sites. He studied models of the Ark and the Dove, the ships that brought the first Europeans to Maryland. He pored over primary sources, such as the diary of the Rev. Andrew White, a Jesuit missionary who sailed from England on the Ark and the Dove. He made relatives and friends model for him in costumes so that he could base his drawings on real figures.
Obtaining a large enough canvas was a feat in and of itself. He finally found one in Belgium. It took 10 people to carry the 100- foot-long canvas to Smith's home in a converted barn in Pineville, Pa.
Once the canvas arrived, he had to build a studio big enough for it. So, he contracted the construction of a cinder block studio, with glass on the north side to admit natural light. "My father did not like to work with artificial light," said Kathlin Smith, who now lives in Washington.
Painting the mural became a full-time job. He rarely took a day off, his daughter said, and worked straight through Christmas 1967.
The following year, Smith finished the mural. He traveled with it to the Maryland House and oversaw its installation. "I can only imagine the mixed emotions he must have had on the way home, his monumental work complete," his daughter said.
There it hung for nearly 20 years. But in 1987, Maryland House underwent a renovation. The building's restaurant was taken over by Marriott. The company hired an artist to renovate the mural and panels. The artist later acknowledged that he painted over about half of the mural and cut pieces from it.
"It was not in the character of my father's work," Kathlin Smith said.
The damage cost an estimated $400,000 to fix. The changes reduced the value of the work from $500,000 to $70,000, according to appraisals made at that time.
William Smith was devastated.
Kathlin Smith recalls her father's reaction when he saw the revised mural. "He came out and his face was white as a sheet," she said. "He was in shock."
At that time there was little to prevent anyone from altering a work of art.
"In 1986, we were not as careful about the significance of public art," O'Brien said.
The story of Smith's mural is often used to illustrate the necessity of the Visual Artists Rights Act, which empowers artists to protect their works from mutilation or inaccurate attribution. But the law, passed in 1990, has not been a complete remedy to the dangers of displaying art publicly, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.
The state legislature and the Maryland Transportation Authority eventually decided to restore Smith's work, hiring a new curator who has worked on the project for years.
"I think it's wonderful that we are embracing our history and our artistic history as well," said Secretary of Transportation and Maryland Transportation Authority Chairman John Porcari, who presented the college with the mural and a plaque from the governor's office.
Kathlin Smith said she was proud of the finished product. The years since the mural was damaged, she said, "have been a difficult emotional journey for our family." Now, she said, they think the mural has a safe home.
Copyright The Washington Post Company Jul 8, 2001