J. Andre Smith
by Peter A. Banca
J. Andre Smith, an architect and artist of world renown,
chose to live in Stony Creek in a Spanish style,
rambling, one-level stucco building of his own design,
overlooking the waters and marshes of Stony Creek.
Born in Hong
Kong in 1880, Smith’s father died when he was young. His
mother moved the family to Germany and ultimately to the
United States. His mother lived in Boston and New York
prior to settling with her three young children in Pine
to family persuasion to study architecture instead of
art in college and he earned his Master’s degree in
architecture at Cornell in 1901. He practiced
architecture in New York and designed many homes
including his own on Crescent Bluff Avenue and two
others on Yowago Avenue. But preference for pure art
influenced him toward a career in which he would be
known primarily for his etchings.
accepted a commission in the U.S. Army in World War I.
There he commanded a group of artists that went to the
front lines and recorded the activities of the American
Expeditionary Forces for the archives. The works of the
group can be viewed at the Smithsonian Institute.
Another collection of Smith’s war drawings are studied
today by cadets at West Point. Sometime after the war
Smith authored In France, With the American
Expeditionary Forces, the first of three books he
was to write.
his commission, Smith designed the Distinguished Service
Cross, which is still used today by the military.
training at Camp Plattsburgh, New York, the young
officer suffered an injury which led to a post war
amputation of the right leg. Smith was to suffer all his
life from a phantom pain which was to restrict his
physical activity. He traveled several times to Europe
after the war, often with his friend, Attilio Banca of
Stony Creek, and continued to actively sketch. This was
a period of great productivity for the artist as an
etcher who was often compared to his close friend and
contemporary, Ernest Roth. His etchings won him a gold
medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915.
returned each year to Pine Orchard and then to Stony
Creek after he and Banca built a new home on West Point
Road. From his home Smith and banca ran art classes and
established the Marsh House gallery to display his own
and other works. He was active in the community in spite
of traveling to Europe and wintering in Florida.
Clarence Bradley and Smith established the American
Legion Post in Branford. He also designed Branford’s
cenotaph, the World War I Memorial located to the rear
of town hall where Veterans Day exercises are held
annually. Other activities included designing stage sets
for the Parish players, a summer theater in what is now
the Stony Creek Puppett House. It was during this time
he authored his second book, The Scenewright.
trips to Florida brought Smith and Banca to Maitland,
then a small community, just north of Orlando. He met
Mary Curtis Bok, who later became Mrs. Efrem Zimbalist.
She assisted Smith in establishing the Research Studio,
Inc., which opened in 1937. A cement carving over the
fireplace in the Center Gallery summarized the purpose
and intent of the center: “The artist’s job is to
explore, to announce new visions, and open new doors.”
was unique architecturally with many cement carvings and
facades done by Andre and Ralph Ponder, a family friend.
This same style of architecture can be seen at Stony
Smith wrote a
third book, Art and the Subconscious. A deeply
religious man, Smith built an outdoor garden chapel in
memory of his mother opposite the Research Studio. The
garden chapel and studio are still open to the public
today. Andre Smith, who died in 1959 and is buried in
Branford Center Cemetery in his family plot, leaves
behind his architecture and art for future generations.