If anyone is living their art, it is Provincetown printmaker Kathryn Lee Smith. Smith was barely out of baby shoes when her maternal grandmother, the late Ferol Sibley Warthen, started exposing Smith to the art of white line printmaking. Warthen, a painter and printmaker, had learned the technique from the renowned painter and printmaker, Blanche Lazzell. “She got hooked and started making prints,” Smith says. “I was fortunate to have my grandmother take me under her wing.” In the summer of 1981, Smith spent the season with Warthen, learning from a master.
Today, Smith lives in Provincetown, the home of the famed Provincetown Printmakers, where her life centers on a powerful fusion of art expression: creating prodigiously, teaching, and lecturing, at such institutions as the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Her first woodblock prints tended to be representational; her later works still have an organic feel but are more abstract. “Ancestor Series,” such as Dawn #3, are both primitive and modern, with a range of rich color infusing each print with its own life force. “The ‘Ancestors’ were a vision,” Smith says. “They build as they go along, with each one informing the next.” Subjects, she says, draw on one fleeting moment snatched from the past, whether that moment is conveyed as a representational image or an abstraction.
Smith’s technique is very physical; as she manipulates color, she pulls each print, with the work constantly informing her theme. Large prints, such as Provincetown Daylilies, are challenging, she says. “You’re continually moving the paper, lifting,” she says. “You sort of hold your breath.” Because every print has a full color range and she can change the colors in every successive print, or not, each print is unique. Provincetown Daylilies is a delicate floral print of butter-yellow and green against a flat background.
The summer she reconnected with her grandmother and refined her printmaking was life changing. As Smith says, “It gave me the pathway of my life’s work.” She is embarking on new themes, but they are still in vision form. “I’m on the cusp of a new body of work,” Smith remarks. “I can’t say exactly what it is. I don’t know yet. I have ideas floating in my head, as always.”
Kathryn Smith’s work may be seen at Gallery Ehva at 74 Shank Painter Road in Provincetown (galleryehva.com); Crowell’s Fine Art (crowellsfineart.com); and Fine Framing in New Bedford; and at kathrynleesmithwhitelineprints.com. Her work is showing through Aug. 26 at the Cape Cod Museum of Art exhibit, “Tides of Provincetown.”