This week’s cover image, “Stars and Stripes,” is an iconic one for artist Dinah Maxwell Smith. The painting celebrates July 4th, a holiday that is dear to Smith’s heart. It also features a child, one of her most commonly portrayed subjects.
There are other aspects of the image that make it a signature Smith work: a feeling of nostalgia, and a sense that her art tells a narrative beyond the compelling visual aspects.
Smith’s current show at the beautiful Southampton Historical Museum in Southampton Village (on view through October)underscores the timelessness of her work. Visit the show and you will see an image of children wading in the water, and another of three men on a bridge, that could be taking place any time, even though the past is evoked. A plot is evolving in these two paintings—we want to know what the men are looking at in the distance, and what the children are dredging up in the water. In this way, Smith involves her viewers in the images, in a simplified and luminous way.
What does the American flag on the cover mean to you?
We’re all Americans. And it’s a wonderful graphic.
Can you elaborate on what it means to be patriotic?
Patriotism is not the same thing as being an American. Just like religion and spirituality are not the same.
You are attracted to things American, like the July 4th Parade in Southampton.
I go each year and photograph the parade. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It’s another piece of Americana in front of us. I love to see the people and the dogs, to see people I haven’t seen for a long time.
How do people react to you taking photographs?
Most people want to be photographed. They think they may be in a magazine. They are aware of publicity.
On another note, you love dogs. Do you still have the three dogs you had last year?
Yes, my Borzoi, a Russian wolfhound. Then there’s Brady, a red standard poodle, and a third dog, a Norfolk terrier. One of my two cats recently died, however.
Dogs play a large part in your paintings.
I like to use a Jack Russell in my work. You can see what his body is doing because it’s not covered with hair. They have lots of motion and energy, and a definite shape. Mutts are also one of my favorite dogs, for the same reason.
You have traveled the U.S. and the world. Do any places have particular meaning?
I have a soft spot for Rhode Island, which has the ocean. I stay with a former roommate from the Rhode Island School of Design, where I went to school, and her family. They are like the family I never had. I come from a small family. She has a large one.
Where else do you go back to that has meaning for you?
In the 1990s, I would go on cattle drives in Montana. As a kid there, I did that a lot, taking the cattle to their summer pasture. I used to go to New Mexico often but haven’t been there since 2007. I’m not a desert person.
Where’s your favorite place to go? I know you studied art in Paris.
France is my number one favorite. In the early 1990s, I would go every year. I also want to go to Venice. But I like to build a nest and stay put.
Meaning you like Southampton best?
I like being part of the community. I like to volunteer. I like seeing people. I like the scale of Long Island. I like the sandy soil.
Dinah Maxwell Smith’s current show will be at The Southampton Historical Museum (17 Meeting House Lane) until Oct. 18. Call 631-283-2494 for additional information.
Her work can also be seen on her website, dinahmaxwellsmith.com.