The James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers measure 5.6 linear feet and date from 1853 to 1957. The collection consists of the papers of four members of the Smillie family including James Smillie, his sons James David and George Henry Smillie, and George's wife, Helen 'Nellie' Jacobs Smillie. The majority of the papers are those of James D. Smillie, comprised of correspondence, forty-five daily diaries, a scrapbook, printed materials, and one etching. The papers of James Smillie consist of biographical materials and writings. The George Smillie papers include biographical materials, scattered correspondence, a scrapbook, printed materials, and photographs. The Helen Jacobs Smillie papers include corrrespondence and photographs. Also found are scattered materials relating to other family members, mostly the children of Helen Jacobs and George Smillie.
Scope and Content Note:
The James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers measure 5.6 linear feet and date from 1853 to 1957. The collection consists of the papers of four members of the Smillie family including James Smillie, his sons James David and George Henry Smillie, and George's wife, Helen 'Nellie' Jacobs Smillie. The majority of the papers are those of James D. Smillie, comprised of correspondence, forty-five daily diaries, a scrapbook, printed materials, and one etching. The papers of James Smillie consist of biographical materials and writings. The George Smillie papers include biographical materials, scattered correspondence, a scrapbook, printed materials, and photographs. The Helen Jacobs Smillie papers include correspondence and photographs. Also found are scattered materials relating to other family members, mostly the children of Helen Jacobs and George Smillie.
James David Smillie's papers consist of correspondence, personal business records, forty-five diaries, a scrapbook, and printed material. Correspondence is mostly professional in nature and includes letters from Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Stuart Church, Samuel Colman, Charles Henry Hart, Eastman Johnson, James Smillie, and A. T. Tait. Forty-five volumes of detailed daily diaries dating from 1865 until 1909 include entries about his work, but are exceedingly rich in references to over 200 artists with which Smillie was associated. Additionally, there are numerous loose documents, notes, and some photographs that were found tucked within the diaries. This finding aid includes a list of named artists referenced in the diaries along with the exact date of the notation. James D. Smillie's papers also include an original etching entitled Up the Hill.
James Smillie papers are scattered and include manuscript and draft copies of his published autobiography, A Pilgrimage, and memorabilia from his 50th wedding anniversary to Catherine Van Valkenburg Smillie.
George Henry Smillie papers contain biographical materials, scattered correspondence, a scrapbook of clippings, printed materials, and photographs. There is a certificate from the National Academy of Design dating from 1883 and photographs of Smillie, Smillie in his studio, and his family.
Helen Jacobs Smillie papers consist of family correspondence from her husband and parents, and studio portrait photographs.
Scattered papers from other family members include correspondence, a list of works of art by the family, a photograph album from Sheldon Smillie, and a portrait of William Smillie.
The collection is arranged as 5 series:
Series 1: James D. Smillie papers, 1853-1917 (4.5 linear feet; Boxes 1-7)
Series 2: James Smillie papers, 1882 (0.2 linear feet; Box 5)
Series 3: George Henry Smillie papers, 1867-1920 (0.6 linear feet; Boxes 5-6)
Series 4: Helen Jacobs Smillie papers, 1860-1910 (0.1 linear feet; Box 5)
Series 5: Other Smillie Family Members papers, circa 1880s-1957 (0.2 linear feet; Box 5)
James D. Smillie and the Smillie family members were active in New York City and the New England area as engravers and landscape painters during the nineteenth century. Members of the Smillie Family of artists include James Smillie (1807-1885), his sons James D. (1833-1909) and George Smillie (1854-1924), and George's wife Helen 'Nellie' Jacobs Smillie (1855-1926).
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland to David and Elizabeth Smillie, James Smillie immigrated to Quebec, Canada. James must have learned engraving from his father who worked with jewelry and silver. Upon his father's death in 1827, Smillie travelled to London and eventually to New York City, where he embarked on a career of creating engravings of paintings by other artists. By 1831, he had established his reputation primarily as an engraver of American landscape paintings. The portability of James Smillie's engravings helped to bring to the American public the grand landscapes by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, and Asher Durand. Smillie also worked for the American Banknote Company.
James Smillie married Catherine Van Valkenburg in 1832, and two of their sons, James David and George Henry also became artists. Elder son James D. assisted his father with engraving and later explored his own artistic talents in prints of the American landscape. Among his many subjects were the Sierra Nevada, Adirondack, Rocky, White, and Catskill Mountains. James D. Smillie was a founding member of the American Watercolor Society and served as its president from 1873 to 1879. Additionally, he was an early member of the New York Etching Club and the first meeting was held in his studio in 1877. James D. also wrote about art for various periodicals.
Like his older brother, George Henry Smillie learned engraving from his father, but turned to painting early in his career. By 1862, he had his own studio in New York City and exhibited with the National Academy of Design in 1864. George travelled throughout the United States sketching and painting landscapes inspired by Long Island, the Adirondack Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, and New England. Many of George's paintings of the American West were influenced by the Hudson River School. George married one of his brother's pupils, Helen Sheldon Jacobs.
Helen Jacobs Smillie, known as Nellie, was born in New York City to Samuel and Helen Jacobs. She received art instruction at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design and was a pupil of James D. Smillie and J. O. Eaton. She married George Smillie in 1881, with whom she had three sons, Sheldon, Charles, and Gordon. Nellie was a member of the American Watercolor Society along with her husband and brother-in-law, and painted in the Hudson River School style.
Also found in the Archives of American Art is the Brucia Witthoft research material on James Smillie and the Smillie family, 1830- 1999. The National Gallery of Canada holds the James D. Smillie Papers.
The James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers were donated in several installations between 1978 and 1990 by James Smillie, David Smillie, and Barbara Smillie Curtis.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
The James D. Smillie and Smillie family papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Twenty glass plate negatives and reference copy prints of the images taken between the late 1880s and the early 1900s by Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas W. Smillie. The images depict the skyline of Washington D.C., views from the 1893 World's Fair: Columbian Exposition, blueprints for the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, and an unidentified orchestra.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of twenty glass plate negatives and associated reference copy prints depicting scenes from the 1893 World's Fair: Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois as well as images of the Washington D.C. skyline dating from between 1888 and 1899. The glass plate negatives range in size from 17" x 20" to 20" x 24" while the silver gelatin, resin-coated paper prints are all 20" x 24". All the images are black and white.
Series 1, Glass Plate Negatives, 1893, 1906, circa 1888-1899, is arranged by a numbering system, possibly assigned by the Smithsonian Office of Printing and Photographic Services (OPPS). The numbers were etched or written on the negatives, for example 3107. The series begins with the numbered images from Washington DC (#3101-#3107), followed by images without identifying numbers. The numbered images from the 1893 Columbian Exposition (non-inclusive #11302-11359) come next, followed by the images without identifying numbers.
The images of Washington D.C., when arranged in the following sequence, form a panorama of the Washington D.C. city: #3103, #3107, #3104, #3101, #3106, #3105, #3102. The images were taken from the tower of the Smithsonian Castle facing north, beginning with a view of the United States Capitol Building in the east (#3102) and ending with a view of the incomplete Washington Monument in the west (#3103). An unnumbered image of the United States Capitol taken after 1899 from the tower of the Old Post Office and Clock Tower looking down Pennsylvania Avenue is included. Two unnumbered blueprints dated July 19, 1906 show the second and third floor layouts of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.
The images of the 1893 World's Fair: Columbian Exposition show various buildings built for the event as well as a replica of the Battleship Illinois which was constructed to illustrate advances in naval technology. Exterior views of the Administration Building, Government Building, Palace of Fine Arts, Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building as well as an interior view of the World's Fair Post Office in the Government Building are found among the negatives. A number of the images appear to have been taken from atop some of the buildings looking down.
One unnumbered and unidentified picture of a musical orchestra sitting on stage is included at the end of the series.
Series 2, Copy prints, 1993, include duplicate or, in some instances triplicate, photographic copy prints of the images from the glass plate negatives. In the case of #11311 and #11359, no copy prints exist. The silver gelatin prints on resin-coated paper were created in the fall of 1993.
The collection is arranged in two series.
Series 1, Glass Plate Negatives, 1893, 1906, circa 1888-1899
Series 2, Copy prints (reference copies), 1993
Biographical / Historical:
While the origin and provenance of some of the glass plate negatives is uncertain, it is likely that the images were created by Smithsonian photographer and curator Thomas W. Smillie and by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a prominent female photographer who was a protege of Smillie's.
Thomas W. Smillie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1843 and emigrated to the United States when he was five years old. He attended Georgetown University, where he studied medicine and chemistry. Shortly thereafter he became a photographer for the Smithsonian and remained with the institution until his death in 1917. In 1896 he was named "custodian" of photography for the Institution, in essence becoming its first photography curator. He staged photographic exhibits and actively collected both images and equipment related to photography.
Frances Benjamin Johnston was an early pioneer for women in the field of photography and photojournalism. Born in 1864 in Grafton, West Virginia, Johnston studied art in Maryland and later at the Académie Julien in Paris. Her high-profile family connection with the Eastman family as well as her insatiable appetite for knowledge about photographic processes quickly propelled her to a formidable professional career. Her work appeared in publications such as The Ladies' Home Journal, Harper's Weekly, and Cosmopolitan, among others. As an apprentice to Thomas W. Smillie, Johnston was engaged to photograph the 1893 World's Fair: Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She made Washington D.C. her home and had the opportunity to photograph a large number of high profile individuals and government officials, including five United States presidents. Her photography often documented mundane and commonplace aspects of life rather than spectacular or prominent ones. Later in her career she focused her photography on colonial architecture, with images of houses, barns, and other buildings that intentionally showed everyday life in the United States South rather than high profile structures which had already been well-documented. She moved to New Orleans in 1940 and died in 1952.
Materials at the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Records, circa 1883-1984 (SIA RU000529)
Field Research Photographs, circa 1909-1924 (SIA Acc. 02-086)
Personnel Records, 1892-1952 (SIA Acc. 05-123)
Collected Registers, 1908-1912 and undated (SIA Acc. 06-138)
National Anthropological Archives
Glass Negatives of Indians (Collected by Bureau of American Ethnology)
Immediate source of acquisition unknown.
The collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.