By Dave Lewis
Clarence Dutton, protégé of John Wesley Powell, was the most poetic and eloquent scientist ever to study the Grand Canyon and its surrounding deserts and plateaus. He saw the area for the first time in 1880 and was struck by the contrast to the green fields, forested mountainsides and softly eroded geology he had always known in the eastern United States. He wrote:
“The lover of nature, whose perceptions have been trained in [Europe] or New England or the Appalachians . . . would enter this strange region with a shock. What he had learned to regard as beautiful, he would seldom or never see, and what he might see would appear anything but beautiful. . . But time would bring a gradual change. He would find the outlines have grace and meaning; the forms are full of dignity . . . colors which had seemed glaring are expressive, tender, changeful.”
Study it, come to understand it, he suggested, and you learn to appreciate a different kind of natural beauty.
Arkansas native Effie Anderson Smith came to live in Arizona in 1895. She must have experienced something of the same shock as Dutton; Arizona’s scenery is dramatically different from what she had known. But, like Captain Dutton, Mrs. Smith quickly came to appreciate the Territory’s beauty. He expressed his feelings in words on paper; she in oils on canvas.
Naturally talented, she began painting landscapes in her native Hope, Arkansas, at the age of fifteen. At twenty-one she married William Spencer; before she was twenty-two she had become a widow. Seeking a new start, she moved with her mother to live near family in Deming, New Mexico. Her biographer, Cynthia Hayostek, picks up the story: “In 1893, Effie taught in Deming. There she joined the Once a Week Club, whose members gathered to discuss books, hold debates and give readings. Another member was Andrew Young Smith.”
A.Y. Smith was a Santa Fe Railway clerk. In 1895, he was reassigned to Benson, Arizona, but before he left, he proposed to Effie. They were married in Bisbee later that year. Effie would live the rest of her life, another 60 years, in Arizona. She taught and painted landscapes; A.Y. left the railroad to become a bookkeeper at Commonwealth Mine. Moving up rapidly, he became president of the mining company. A prosperous and comfortable life, however, did not insulate them against hardship and heartache. Only one of their three children survived into adulthood.
Effie found solace and purpose in painting. Her great-nephew Steven Carlson wrote that A.Y.’s job regularly took him to California, and Effie went along. “Effie befriended and was mentored by many of the founding artists of the California plein-air impressionist movement. . . Her studies [in California] had a great influence on her approach to painting as she became a prolific desert painter around the Sulphur Springs Valley, Tucson, the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, and beyond. . . Effie’s special love for the mountains and desert vistas along today’s Ghost Town Trail was evident in every painting she created, and in her frequent speaking engagements about her art.”
Turning again to her biographer: “Clearly, Effie’s lessons had enhanced her innate talent. Her first mentor, in 1908, was May Bradford Shockley . . . The two women both had lived in mining camps and both understood geology. Geological formations, Effie believed, were one of the four reasons for Arizona’s great scenic beauty. Another was sand which Effie saw as a prism that reflected colors. The other two causes, she said, were clear air and sunshine.”
The great, distant vistas and open spaces in Arizona present a challenge for any artist. Effie learned to use purples and violets to capture the gentle haze created by distance. A 1929 magazine article, quoted by Ms. Hayostek, noted: “It was the color and space of Arizona that had so enthralled her. The far-flung distances, the glowing colors of the desert, the pastel shades of the mesas and mountains held for her a special charm. And, as a portrait painter or sculptor studies anatomy . . . so has this artist studied the geology of the country she paints.”
William Henry Holmes, the artist who accompanied Clarence Dutton in 1880, was every bit as much a geologist as he was a painter. So, too, was Effie Anderson Smith. Her sense of geology enhanced her Grand Canyon paintings which sold for years at the Hotel El Tovar. These and her desert scenes are in private collections and museums all over the country.
Effie lived her last five years at the Pioneer Home in Prescott; she died in 1955, and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery. She is one of several hundred Pioneering Arizona Women honored in the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Rose Garden Discovery Kiosk, a computerized display in the Sharlot Hall Building.
For more information on this pioneering artist see: www.effieandersonsmith.com
Her biography is available through: www.borderlandchronicles.com
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at email@example.com for information.