Nature I Loved: Alice Ravenel Huger Smith and the Carolina Lowcountry

TJC Gallery, Spartanburg, South Carolina
July 13, 2022 – October 8, 2022

Although she rarely ventured beyond the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876–1958) can hardly be described as provincial. What she lacked in formal art education and worldly exposure, she compensated for with native enthusiasm and innate talent. Descended from venerable Charleston families, Smith was instrumental in the city’s artistic reawakening during the early twentieth century. An active contributor to Charleston’s cultural development, she was involved in the Historic Charleston Foundation, Carolina Art Association, and the Music and Poetry Society.

Smith experimented in various mediums—she produced architectural drawings of historic homes and neighborhoods, and early in her career, somber to light-hearted portraits of regional figures. She created critically acclaimed wood block prints and etchings from her study of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. But it was in watercolor—especially her depictions of the Lowcountry landscape—that Smith found her true artistic voice.

Despite minimal training, Smith displayed an incredible facility with the finicky medium. Her watercolors exude a reverence and deep appreciation of nature, and she found that medium most conducive to achieving the atmospheric effects she sought in her landscapes. These evocative scenes are generally devoid of human presence or activity, serving instead as odes to the natural beauty around her. Nostalgia imbues all these works, reflecting Smith’s desire to convey through memory and imagination an idealized record of the past.

When looking back at her sixty-year career, Smith recalled: “I knew that my own lovely, flat country of rice fields, of pinewoods, of cypress swamps, of oaks, and lotus and all their attendant feathered folk would yield me a full harvest if diligently spaded.”