Murray E. Smither, a Dallas-based artist, gallerist, and art dealer, died on Saturday, April 1, 2023, at the age of 85. Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Smither left an incredible mark on the Texas arts community, helping found galleries and supporting regional artists.
Mr. Smither was born on July 5, 1937 in Huntsville, Texas to Douglas Laverne Smither and Cova Estelle Galloway Smither. During his youth, Mr. Smither learned the printing business from his father, who owned and operated a print shop. Mr. Smither graduated from high school in 1955, and in 1958 he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with minors in Painting and Journalism from Sam Houston State University (SHSU).
After graduating from college, Mr. Smither moved to Dallas, where he worked at Middleton Press until it went out of business in 1960. He then took a position at Texas Instruments (TI), a technology company in Dallas, where he worked as an editor for scholarly articles published in professional journals. During this time he also joined the Texas National Guard and worked for the Fort Polk, Louisiana newspaper while training in the area.
Mr. Smither worked at TI until 1964, when he took the position of assistant director at Atelier Chapman Kelley, a Dallas-based gallery. That same year, Mr. Smither served on a jury panel to review works for an art show at the prison in his hometown of Huntsville. While jurying the show, he first saw the work of self-taught artist Frank Jones. Mr. Smither advocated for Mr. Jones to be awarded best of show, and went on to become a patron of the artist. He purchased pieces by Mr. Jones for his own collection and introduced other collectors to the artist’s work. Mr. Smither even worked with a state representative to try to exonerate Mr. Jones, however, before this could be accomplished, the artist died in prison in 1969 due to liver trouble.
In 1970, Mr. Smither left his position at Atelier Chapman Kelley and helped Betty Cranfill open the Cranfill Gallery. From 1972 to 1974, he opened his own space, called Smither Gallery, then in 1975 Mr. Smither partnered with Laura Carpenter and Virginia (Ginny) Gable to launch Delahunty Gallery. In the 2013 exhibition catalog DallasSITES: A Developing Art Scene, Postwar to Present, published by the Dallas Museum of Art, the publication’s lead researcher, curator Leigh Arnold, noted that Delahunty Gallery was one of the most successful galleries in Dallas’ Uptown. Ms. Arnold explained that Mr. Smither’s connection to local and regional artists was key to the success of the gallery.
Dallas gallerist Barry Whistler, who worked with Mr. Smither at Delahunty Gallery in the late 1970s, told Glasstire, “His eye and his installation of the shows had a real attraction… there were other galleries that were showing more blue-chip kinds of things, but Murray was taking on the local scene, showing Oak Cliff artists like George T. Green, Jack Mims, and Jim Roche.”
In 1983, when Delahunty gallery closed, Mr. Smither was hired by Belo Corporation, at the time the parent company of The Dallas Morning News, to locate a mural which had been removed from the interior of the original DMN building in 1971. The 15-foot-tall by 175-foot-wide mural was painted in 1949 by Dallas artist Perry Nichols and depicted the founding of the company’s first newspaper in 1842 in Galveston, scenes in Texas history, and the 1885 founding of the DMN. After its removal, the work had been donated to the University of Texas. Mr. Smither found it in storage in an art building at the campus. Following the piece’s restoration, which Mr. Smither supervised, the mural was installed in 1986 in the company’s new building at 400 South Record Street, where it remained until 2013 when the building was sold. The mural is now in the collection of the Hamon Arts Library at Southern Methodist University (SMU). During his time working for Belo Corporation, Mr. Smither also assembled an art collection for the company, which came to hold over 300 works by Texas artists.
In 1986, the Belo Corporation developed Lubben Park and Plaza and gifted the land to the City of Dallas. Mr. Smither curated the downtown Dallas sculpture park, commissioning works by Houston artist George Smith and Dallas artist Linnea Glatt, which were installed in 1992. In 1994, a commission by Rockport artist Jesús Moroles was added to the park.
Mr. Smither worked as an art advisor and consultant for most of his life and simultaneously built his own collection, which was rooted in self-taught artists. His collection was displayed at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie in 2020. A press release for the exhibition, THOUGHTFUL COLLECTION – the collection of Murray Smither, stated, “[Mr. Smither’s] contributions have been great in Texas Art, but the history of Texas Folk Art and the reputations of it’s artists would not be the same had Murray Smither not seen its value, admired the artists and shared those with the public. We have had the joy of many years of friendship and [are] currently working with Murray to find new homes for his beloved pieces within his collection.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Smither served on various committees and councils for the arts. From 1982 until 1989, he was a committee member for Dallas City Council’s Art in Public Places. He was an advisor for the Kimbell Art Museum’s Artist’s Eye Program from 1987 to 1989. From 2006 until 2021, Mr. Smither served on the gallery committee of the Wynne Home Arts Center in Huntsville. Additionally, he served on the art committee for the DART Design Program for the City of Dallas, the advisory council for the Emergency Artists Support League of Dallas, and the advisory board of the Pollock Gallery at SMU.
In 1998, Mr. Smither received the Dallas Visual Art Center’s Legend Award, which honors community leaders in the arts. Last month, the College of Arts and Media at Sam Houston State University awarded Mr. Smither with the 2022-2023 Legacy Award, celebrating his lifetime service in support of the arts. To mark the occasion, SHSU’s Texas Art Collection acquired a drawing by Frank Jones.