Antiques and Art Around Florida — 2013-2014
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Jules Andre Smith ...Pioneer Of The Arts
Richard Farneski

"The true creative artist is usually ahead of his time; at best he is a prophet" —Jules Andre Smith

A painter, etcher and architect as well as an author, war veteran and stage designer are the many hats that famed and noted Florida pioneer, Jules Andre Smith (1880-1959) would come to wear over the course of his lifetime.

Acknowledged by many as a talented artist worldwide, those knowledgeable of Florida history and lore would recognize Smith as the creator of "The Research Center”, a sprawling six acre winter haven for artists on the shores of Lake Sybelia in Maitland, Florida during the 1930’s.

Born in China to American parents in1880, Smith’s father was a shipbuilder whom would perish seven years later at sea. His Mother would uproot he and his siblings to Hamburg Germany for two years prior to settling in New York City in 1889. It would be there that Smith would develop an interest in painting and etchings while in high school. He would later enroll in art courses in conjunction with studying architecture at Cornell University in 1898. Earning a Bachelor of Architecture in 1902, he would earn a Master of Science of Architecture degree in 1904

Leaving Cornell, Smith entered a two year fellowship traveling throughout Europe, and upon returning to the United States would be employed as a draftsman with an architectural firm in New York City.

Draftsman by day, his passion for art occupied most of his free time at night, demonstrating his talent to prominent print dealers.With an overwhelming response and endorsement of his talents by these dealers, Smith put down his mechanical pencil and picked up a painter’s brush, leaving behind a promising architectural career. Smith now confident of his blossoming talent as an artist, traveled throughout Europe promoting his artwork which would culminate with his gold medal, award winning European etchings at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

He would return back to the United States and enlist in the U.S. Army, completed officer training and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Engineer Reserve Corps in 1917. As the United States became involved in World War I, Andre was ordered to active duty as a field sketch artist. Elevated in rank, Captain Smith would lead a coalition of seven artists and engage his talents as a wartime field artist, sketching the theatre of battlefield engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.

Prior to completing his commission, Jules Andre Smith would design the "Distinguished Service Cross", which is recognized as the second highest military award that can be bestowed upon United States Army personnel and is awarded in recognition of extreme heroism.

Upon leaving the military and now as a civilian, Smith resided in Stoney Creek, Connecticut, where inexplicably his style of art took a dramatic change of direction. His progressive style of art that brought him notoriety seemed abandoned.Dealers and critics were stymied by his new renderings, as they did not resemble in any manner his prior accomplished works. He now spent time away from the easel and palette and spent more time working with the theatrical group, the Parrish Players of Stoney Creek, planning and designing stage layouts and painting murals for the stage performance company from 1922 to 1924.

In 1924, he would have his right leg amputated as a result of an injury he suffered during enlistment training in the United States Army.Even though his leg was treated for the wound at the time, complications arose over the years, resulting in an embolism which necessitated the amputation. As he recovered, Smith took to etching once again, with pieces created that were seen as contemporary and progressive for the era and were enthusiastically received. With such fanfare of his etching along with a rejuvenation for life, Smith took to penning the literary pieces, America in Search of Culture, in 1925, the New Horizons in American Art, in 1926 and Art and the Subconscious in 1937.

Smith and long time personal assistant Attilio J. Banca traveled to Florida in 1930, in search of a site for a winter studio.Health concerns and harsh winter weather conditions prompted Smith to seek a more favorable climate from late fall until the early spring. As they motored along Florida’s east coast heading toward South Florida, they came upon Maitland, which was referred to at the time as Lake Maitland. Taking a detour from their direct route to South Florida, Smith and Banca traveled around Lake Maitland, noting the town surroundings and Lake Sybelia, and then returned to the main thoroughfare to continue on to their intended destination.While they remained in South Florida for the duration of the winter of 1930, they were unable to procure a viable tract of land nor facilities for their envisioned winter studio.

In 1931, the two gentlemen returned to Florida once again in search of a winter studio. This expedition would land them in Winter Park, Florida. There they rented a house for the season and became Quick to make the acquaintance with their neighbor, Anne Russell. Upon meeting each other, Smith realized they had shared interests, as Miss Russell was the theatre director at nearby Rollins College. Russell would soon arrange for Smith’s art to be exhibited at the galleries of Rollins College.

To express his gratitude for the gallery exhibit, Smith offered the courtesy of his knowledge and experience in stage set design and construction to the Rollins College theatrical group. With this admiration for Jules Andre Smith, Anne Russell introduced him to Mary Louise Curtis Bok. Miss Curtis Bok was a renowned philanthropist from Philadelphia, and benefactor to the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. Much like Smith, she resided in Florida during the winter months and was familiar with whom he was, for Smith was vocal in local newspaper editorials, criticizing local residents for acquiring Italian primitive paintings. He cited the need for Florida residents to invest in American artists.

Bok shared in Smith’s quest for the creation of an arts center that would promote the arts and would “encourage the explorative point of view in American Art.” With the philanthropic generosity of Miss Curtis Bok, Smith acquired six acres of land in 1937 on Lake Sybelia in Maitland, for the creation of “The Research Studio”, which would become a renowned haven for artists in a more temperate climate. It would allow fellowship artists and other artistic media pioneers to define their creative destiny by exploration, definition and illustration.

A small community of many facilities and landscape, Smith designed and constructed “The Research Studio” as an expansive array of motifs and imagery associated with Mesoamerican culture along with figural representations which were indicative of various religious faiths.Design and construction in later years would illustrate his intrinsic allegiance to abstract modernism.

Noted fellowships at The Research Studio from 1937 thru 1957 included; American abstract painter, lithographer and photographer Ralston Crawford, pioneer print makers Boris Margo and Jan Gelb, artistic photographer Consuelo Delesseps Kanaga and color artist Milton Avery.

For twenty-two years, until his death in 1959, Jules Andre Smith overcame the adversity of World War I and misfortune of personal health issues to rise to prominence as one of the most progressive artists of his time.His ingenuity in the development of The Research Center in Maitland serves as the foundation for the exploration and advancement of the arts throughout the world.The trove of artistic creativity and expression by those that resided there has proven to be invaluable and can studied and offered to the world through original exhibitions for generations.

The Research Center is now known as the Maitland Art Center. It has expanded with the addition of gallery exhibitions, contemporary art programming and a resourceful curriculum of art instruction. The Maitland Center is an artistic gem, tucked away amongst the tourist destinations of Florida. It is a requisite to visit for the knowledgeable and those fascinated by the many aspects of the world of art.

The Center is recognized by the State of Florida as an historic site and is entered on the National Register of Historic Places. More information about The Maitland Art Center can be found at http:// artandhistory.org/maitland-artcenter/.
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