Exhibitions of her work are spread from the Gibbes Museum of Art to Middleton Place and the Edmondston-Alston House
(Left) Lotus in the Great Blake Reserve (watercolor on paper, c. 1926-1936); (Right) Alice Ravenel Huger
When roll is called for those considered to be the city’s greatest artists, the name Alice Ravenel Huger Smith will certainly be high on the list. While her name suggests connections to Lowcountry aristocracy (she also was a Middleton descendant), she was born into poverty on July 14, 1876. That may have kept her from obtaining a formal art education beyond Charleston, but it honed her focus, too.
Smith’s first published works were skilled graphite drawings of the city’s old dwelling houses, which helped launch a preservation movement to save them; she progressed to staggeringly beautiful wood blocks, inspired by Japanese prints. Some say her images of the rice culture that enslaved tens of thousands while making a few wealthy are too sentimental and avoidant of reality, but her real focus and contributions lay elsewhere. Anyone who has seen her lovely landscapes of cypresses and marsh grass, palmettos and the sea, or a heron on wing will see the connection she felt with the land that bore her ancestors and inspired her paintings.
A new book, Alice: Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Charleston Renaissance Artist (Evening Post Books, 2021), honors her, and exhibitions currently are spread from the Gibbes Museum of Art to Middleton Place and the Edmondston-Alston House.
Smith died in 1958; however, her legacy lives on in her credo carved on her tombstone in Magnolia Cemetery: “Nature I loved and next to nature, art.”
Read our 2016 feature about Alice Ravenel Huger Smith and her work at charlestonmag.com/all_in_the_family.