David Smith Biography

David Smith




David Smith was born March 9, 1906, in Decatur, Indiana. His artistic education began in high school, when he took a correspondence course with the Cleveland Art School. He went on to study at Ohio University, Athens in 1924; the University of Notre Dame; and the Art Students’ League with Richard Lahey and John Sloan in 1926. In 1929, Smith met John Graham, who later introduced him to the welded-steel sculpture of Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez. Smith traveled to Paris in the 1930s and worked at the Atelier 17 with Stanly William Hayter.

Smith studied with Stuart Davis, de Kooning, Gorky, Edgar Levy, Pollock, and Jean Xceron throughout the 1930s. He began sculpting in 1931 and, in 1934, he set up a sculpting studio at the Terminal Iron Works in Brooklyn. He traveled throughout Europe from 1935-36 and, upon his return to New York, Smith began his Medals for Dishonor project, a series of antiwar medallions. In 1937, he made sculpture for the WPA Federal Art Project. Smith’s first solo show of drawings and welded-steel sculpture was held at Marion Willard's East River Gallery in New York in 1938.

In 1940, he settled permanently in Bolton Landing, and the following year a solo show of his work was mounted at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Smith taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, from 1948 to 1950, and at Bennington College, Vermont, and other schools during the 1950s. The Museum of Modern Art presented a Smith retrospective in 1957 and organized a major traveling exhibition of his work in 1961. In 1962, at the invitation of the Italian government, Smith went to Voltri, near Genoa, and executed twenty-seven sculptures for the Spoleto festival. In 1963, he began his Cubi series of monumental, geometric steel sculptures. Smith died May 23, 1965, in an automobile accident near Bennington. The Guggenheim Museum organized a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1969.