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 Archives of American Art also holds materials lent for microfilming (reels 3766 and 3829) including personal photographs, photos of Smille's house in Montrose, Pennsylvania, and a photocopy of a journal. Lent material was returned to the lenders and is not described in the collection container inventory.
James Smillie, David Smillie, and Barbara Smillie Curtis donated the Smillie Family papers to the Archives of American Art in several installments between 1978 and 1990. James Smille lent photographs for microfilming in 1986.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Included are geneological charts, a typescript of "A Pilgrimage by James Smilie 1807- 1855"; files containing research citations and photographs of works of art; logbooks of works of art by James Smillie; photocopies of newspaper clippings; and files on artists active in the Adirondack region, including a typescript of Brucia Witthoft's unpublished biographical index.
Biographical / Historical:
Witthoft: art historian; Lexington, Mass. and the author of The fine-arts etchings of James David Smillie, 1833-1909 : A Catalogue Raissone (1992). The Smillie family included notable painters and engravers, including James Smillie (1807-1885), his sons James D. Smillie (1833-1909) and George F. Smillie (1854-1924), and wife, Helen (Nellie) Jacobs Smilllie (1854-1926) .
Donated 2000 by Brucia Witthoft.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.