Oliver Phelps Smith: A Little Discovered and Long Forgotten Gem
Oliver Phelps Smith is a more or less?unknown American artist who was?born in Hartford, CT in 1857 and who worked for most of his life?as both a painter and stained glass artist. For many years he was associated?with Heinigke & Bowen in New York?which,?upon the death of Otto Heinigke,?became Heinigke & Smith when Otto Heinegke's son?assumed his father's position in the business. Otto Heinigke?had been?one of the most famous American stained glass artists of all time. He'd shared his studio with Owen J. Bowen, a former associate of both Louis Comfort Tiffany and John?La Farge. The influence of Heinigke and La Farge on Oliver Phelps Smith is impossible to ignore. Both are known for?incorporating?ancient stained glass techniques, that?had been?used?toward the end of the Middle Ages in the stained glass of French gothic cathedrals,?with much more modern?practices used at the time?by?Tiffany. Later, Phelps Smith moved to Boston and?concentrated entirely?on?painting, mostly water colors that were clearly influenced by his work in stained glass.?
As one can see in the works?pictured?below, his use of?water color?was unusual in that there was?rarely if ever?any white space left on the paper, and rather than capitalize on the transparency of the medium, he instead?sought?out a?density and saturation that is usually relegated to oils. He painted prolifically?before returning?to New York to design tapestry, and?then began painting murals such?as?the one on the ceiling of the?Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan.?Today he is largely forgotten,?as very few dealers or museums have ever procured?works from this artist, and we think something should be done to rehabilitate his renown?as he is one of the truly?creative artists?of whom?the US?can be proud.