Ozark Outdoors

Robert E. Smith painting will hang in Clinton Presidential Center

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A mural by the late Robert E. Smith in downtown Springfield.

A mural by the late Robert E. Smith in downtown Springfield. A number of his paintings are in the permanent collection of the Springfield Art Museum.

Robert E. Smith self portrait copy

Self portrait of Robert E. Smith, who died in 2010.

The Springfield Art Museum has facilitated the donation of a painting by well-known local outsider artist, Robert E. Smith, to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. In late spring 2014, local arts patron and museum docent William Brandon Bowman contacted the museum about a Robert E. Smith painting that was in his possession.

Smith was a well-known local artist who made uniquely child-like paintings – often described as folk art or outsider art. He had no formal training but painted narrative scenes of circuses, friends, and life in Springfield, often accompanied by a hand-written story and an audio tape of the artist reading the story. The Springfield Art Museum has a number of his works in its permanent collection and presented an exhibition of his work in 1984. Smith passed away in 2010.
The Springfield Art Museum has facilitated the donation of a painting by well-known local outsider artist, Robert E. Smith, to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. In late spring 2014, local arts patron and museum docent William Brandon Bowman contacted the museum about a Robert E. Smith painting that was in his possession.

Smith was a well-known local artist who made uniquely child-like paintings – often described as folk art or outsider art. He had no formal training but painted narrative scenes of circuses, friends, and life in Springfield, often accompanied by a hand-written story and an audio tape of the artist reading the story. The Springfield Art Museum has a number of his works in its permanent collection and presented an exhibition of his work in 1984. Smith passed away in 2010.

Bowman was a close friend of Smith’s and after the artist’s death, was left with a painting that depicts the then newly built Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. Museum Director Nick Nelson and Curator Sarah Buhr went to view the work during which time Bowman shared how, in 2006, he had driven Smith down to Little Rock where he sketched the painting onsite. After finishing the painting in April 2007, Bowman said Smith tried a number of times to donate the work to the library.

After Smith’s death, Bowman was left with the painting and set about trying to find a way to get it to the library. Eventually, he contacted the Springfield Art Museum and after hearing the story, Buhr managed to get a direct contact to the Clinton Library’s curator who expressed interest in the work. Subsequently, Buhr was able to put the library’s curator in touch with Bowman, who is now donating the painting to the library, finally fulfilling the late artist’s wishes.

“It was always Robert’s child-like fantasy to think that President Clinton was going to come out of the library with arms extended to receive Robert and his painting. Sadly, that fantasy never happened during Robert’s lifetime. I am just proud that with Sarah Buhr’s help as curator of the Springfield Art Museum, the painting now becomes part of the permanent collection of the Clinton Library where Robert always intended it to be,” Bowman says.

“When we heard the backstory of this painting, I just knew that we could help fulfill Robert E.’s wishes. Fortunately, because of the subject matter and the unique acclaim of the artist, it was truly a perfect fit for the Clinton Library’s collection as well. I was happy to help facilitate the donation and am truly happy to get the painting to its most perfect home,” Buhr says.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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