Room 3

David Smith - Royal Incubator 1949 Steel, bronze and silver sculpture

David Smith
Royal Incubator 1949
Steel, bronze and silver
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Bagley Wright, Seattle

David Smith - The Cathedral 1950 Painted steel sculpture

David Smith
The Cathedral 1950
Painted steel
Private Collection, Courtesy of McKee Gallery, New York

David Smith - Sacrifice 1950 Painted steel sculpture seen outdoors

David Smith
Painted steel

The University of Iowa Musuem of Art, Iowa City. Lent by an an anonymous Iowa collector

From 1942 to 1944 Smith worked as a welder for the American Locomotive Company, assembling trains and M7 destroyer tanks. The experience improved his welding skills, while his earnings enabled him to devote himself entirely to making sculpture for several years. He was also able to construct a studio at his home, a former farmhouse at Bolton Landing in the Adirondack Mountains, 220 miles north of New York City.

These years were fruitful for Smith. In 1945 he wrote to Edgar Levy: ‘There is so much to be read – so many women to lay – so much liquor to drink – fish to catch, etc. – but I get the most satisfaction out of my work… Sometimes while I’m working on one piece I get a conception for a wholly new and different one – I would say that my product is always about a year’s work behind my conceptions, in number. Right now I have drawings and thinkings for a year’s labour.’

During the 1940s Smith developed a lyrical and autobiographical sculptural language. The influence of Surrealist sculpture, particularly Giacometti’s early work, is evident in the dream-like imagery of many of these works. In Home of the Welder 1945, for example, Smith creates a symbolic tableau using objects such as the millstone and chain to express the frustration and sense of confinement that he felt in both his work and his childless first marriage. Dorothy Dehner and Smith eventually separated in 1950. Three years later, Smith married Jean Freas, having met her whilst she was a student and he was teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville in 1949. Their first daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1954; and a second daughter, Candida, was born the following year. Smith and Freas separated in 1958, but his daughters remained key figures in his life and art.