It's every parent's worst nightmare: Their kid decides they want to be an artist. Visions of unemployment and mooching lead most parents to object, but that wasn't the case with Betty Anglin Smith. After all, she'd made the plunge herself some 20 years earlier.
Betty's triplets — Shannon, Jennifer, and Tripp — didn't always want to be artists like their painter mother. They each dabbled in various areas — physical therapy, architecture, psychology — before committing to full-time careers in the arts. Now 34, Tripp is a photographer, and Shannon and Jennifer are painters. The family co-owns and exhibits at Smith-Killian Gallery on Queen Street, and the three Smith women are currently featured in a show called Smith at the Wells Gallery on Kiawah Island.
Similar yet decidedly distinct, the women's paintings typically depict Lowcountry scenes in a bold, light-filled color palette. While they're each notable for their individual talents, together they create something even more valuable: a good story. Earlier in their careers, they exhibited together at the Wells on Broad Street before realizing they had the pull to open their own gallery.
"Hume [Killian] and everybody that was working there found themselves over and over telling the story of, 'This is the mother and her twin daughters who paint in oils.' People were just sort of fascinated by the family thing," Shannon says. "Hume and our mom just put their heads together and thought, 'We've got a great marketing tool here. Why not capitalize on that?'"
As valuable as it is, Betty never planned on raising a family of artists.
"My children were always exposed to art. They always had art supplies available," Betty says. "When we traveled, we always went to galleries and art museums. My love and enthusiasm for it can be contagious. I'm sure that had an effect on them."
When Shannon and Jennifer started seriously pursuing painting after graduating from Clemson, they relied on their mother for her critique and support. Anytime they'd stop by for a visit, they'd inevitably have a new work in the trunk, the paint still wet, eager for feedback.
"When we first started oil painting, our styles were a lot more similar to our mom's, because that's what we knew," Jennifer says. "It's been really interesting to see over the years how each of us has really evolved into our distinct styles, but we're similar."
Shannon paints still lifes, landscapes, and portraits, and she has a talent for capturing light using a subtler palette than the other two. Jennifer has an affinity for architecture and landscapes, and she's currently preparing for a solo show in October called Natural and Noteable. Betty's paintings are bold and expressionistic, recently veering into abstraction.
"I feel like I'm going through some sort of transformation here again, but I don't know that I'll ever really give up the realism in the work," Betty says. "I think the way we grow as artists is always exposing yourself to other art that is out there. ... When I see a lush painting with heavy paint build-up and a lot of exciting movement, just a real strong powerful piece, I get very excited about it."
While Betty's style continues to evolve, her muse remains the same: Her main studio is in a small renovated cottage on the marsh in Meggett, S.C. It's where she and her husband live 75 percent of the time.
"It's tidal marshes, so it's always changing," Betty says of the surrounding landscape. "I sort of need that in my life. It's entertaining to me to watch the tides, the skies. It's so wide open, you can see for miles and miles. Probably 90 percent of my work over the past eight years has come from that little area there within walking distance of my studio."
The Smith family often convenes at the cottage, taking mini photo expeditions or painting in plein-air. Their shared inspiration allows the matriarch to keep an eye on her offspring.
"I'm in awe of what they're doing," Betty says. "They will do things that I think, 'I could never do that.' "