Children are born with natural talents. Some are good at every sport they pick up, some learn to read with ease, and some are born with creative blood flowing through their veins. As a young girl, renowned painter Betty Anglin Smith always had an affinity for the arts. In kindergarten, she was always the child coloring, decorating the bulletin board, or painting. However, her story to where she is today is one filled with Southern tradition, rooted in a loving family and the majestic scenery of the beloved Lowcountry.
Growing up, Betty took art classes off and on whenever she could. She attended Winthrop University while her sweetheart, Cody, went to Clemson University. She never considered art as a major in college and instead took on the role of educating the youth of her community as an elementary education major. Taking a break from the arts, Betty was a teacher while Cody finished law school—and then their triplets arrived.
With three youngsters to feed, chase after, and love, Betty stayed at home to raise her children. When the little ones went off to preschool, Betty signed up for painting classes at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. Reigniting her creative side, these watercolor classes eventually propelled Betty into the business of painting. As the family grew older, they made the move to Mount Pleasant not knowing a soul in town. But a little co-op art gallery in Mount Pleasant changed all of that.
Painting classes at that little gallery introduced Betty to the women that would become her best friends. With her newfound friendships, Betty says, “It was a great time to grow up with your friends being supportive artists. It is a wonderful way to live a life out in nature.”
Betty set up a painting studio in her home and ever since then has spent as much free time as she can there. Working with watercolor at the time, Betty photographed the outdoor landscape to translate into watercolor treasures, but a trip to Santa Fe changed all of that.
Betty traveled with a fellow artist and friend to the desert of Santa Fe that elevated the way Betty would share her creativity. Rich desert sunsets awakened Betty to the distinct colors that she could use in her work, and strolls through various galleries with enormous oil paintings rich in bold colors encouraged Betty to push her own artistic boundaries.
After returning home from an adventure that would forever change her perspective of art, Betty set out to embrace a new challenge: oil paintings. With an ever-changing landscape to inspire her, Betty spent hours on her dock watching the tide roll in and out as the sun set and used these stunning colorful vistas as the subjects of her work. These realistic paintings are each unique in their own way, one quality that Betty encourages artists to find in their own art.
Throughout Betty’s paintings, you will find an intricate layering process she uses with bold colors. Reds and oranges keep the underpainting bright while layers on top pull the art back to a more realistic depiction of the subject. Looking at Betty’s work will give you a sense of discovery as you see colors you may not have noticed in a sunset or even in the Lowcountry before. As you walk away, you find yourself noticing these colors in nature, therefore making you more observant, Betty explains.
With many landscape painters on the scene in the booming arts culture of the Lowcountry, Betty strives to maintain her unique talents and remain true to herself through her work—a goal that does not keep her from chasing her next challenge.
As Betty’s work has evolved, so have her techniques. Most recently on Betty’s easel you can find abstract art, which compared to her realism work, removes all sense of object. In what she describes as an easy transition, Betty’s work becomes more about the paint, the application of the paint, the expressions in the brushwork, and the energy that comes forth from it all together. In her abstract pieces, her brushwork is so active that it naturally creates an energy dependent on the colors used. Reds and oranges produce a lively and active feeling while blues, greens, and purples create a more serene and calming presence. These emotions created by the paint make a statement instead of a place.
To challenge herself, though Betty doesn’t have to leave the realm of realism. On a visit to the preserve at Botany Bay, Betty found a wide-open vista and took breathtaking photographs of the moment, intentionally saving the photography for a special project. As Betty was looking through the photographs, her phone rang with a request. Palmetto Bluff was building The Boundary at Moreland Village and was in need of a beautifully unique piece of artwork. There was just one thing—it had to be large, very large. It all clicked as Betty pieced together the panoramic views of the bay—the photo perfectly fit the three-by-nine-foot piece of art needed.
When Betty loaded up the canvas in a pick-up truck and delivered it to her studio, it took up two easels and nearly her entire workspace. Hours of brushstrokes, layers of paint, and days in the studio led to the creation of a magnificent piece. The dark moodiness of the painting is balanced out by the bright sunset. After being told once that one can never paint a sunset, Betty giggled and said, “They’re my favorite [subject] to paint.”
As you can imagine, Betty draws inspiration for her paintings from the breathtaking scenery of the Lowcountry. However, her art history knowledge also provides inspiration from old-time favorites to today’s artists: Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Brian Rutenberg, and Joan Mitchell just to name a few. But her true inspiration is her family.
The creativity runs deep in the Smith family. The Anglin Smith Fine Art gallery on Queen Street in Charleston is one not to miss. Tucked into the French Quarter, this family business includes Betty and her triplets, Shannon, Jennifer, and Tripp. Shannon favors oil painting and is talented in making light the focus on her works. Tripp captures the landscapes of the Lowcountry through photography while Jennifer’s oil paintings display buildings against bright skies. Not to miss in the gallery are other painters along with a bronze sculptor and glass artists.
Betty continues to amaze the art world with her talents and her next project is sure to impress. She is currently working on a series of botanical abstracts that will leave you with a sense of subject, but one that is not completely defined. Be on the lookout as she also continues her oil work with realism and abstract subjects. And although she has been painting for 40 years, she says, “There is always a new way to approach it.”
What is always a definite is her family’s continuous support as they navigate the art world with their creative treasures together. This year, Betty and Cody will celebrate their 50th anniversary with a trip to France as they wine and dine through the beautiful country. And if she isn’t painting, I can just about promise you she will be spending quality time with her little grandchildren.
So, the next time you find yourself in Charleston, be sure to stop by the Anglin Smith Fine Art gallery— with something for everyone, it is the perfect stop.
By: Sarah Grubbs
Artwork by: Betty Anglin Smith