By Gina Malone
Marcia Dockey Smith not only discovered an interest in art at a young age, but found a source of inspiration then as well that informs her work still today. “When I wasn’t outside, usually in winter after ice skating or sledding,” she says, “I would spend hours looking at the Native American books my parents had. The one I loved most was a set of books about eight children from different tribes. Each book told about the life and ways of their cultures.”
She grew up in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts ensconced in a family of artists. “Dad was an electrical engineer and enjoyed painting,” she says. “His mother was an artist and I remember visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house and loving that paintings hung on almost every inch of wall from floor to ceiling in every room.” In addition, her mother, a nurse, did needlework; her older brother makes jewelry; and her older sister is a children’s book illustrator and fantasy artist.
Marcia grew up exploring the nature around her home: climbing trees, picking berries and collecting feathers, rocks, sticks and flowers—a pastime she continues to this day. “I love finding treasures—acorns, feathers, pinecones—on my way up to the top of a mountain trail,” she says.
When she was 15, her father’s job brought the family to Conover, NC. “We would often visit the mountains, which I loved because it reminded me of the mountains in the Berkshires,” she says. She attended East Carolina University, where she majored in illustration. One of her jobs while in school was working at an arts, crafts and hobby store that she would later manage, a job that took her all over the state for 27 years.
Along the way, she raised her son Hank to appreciate and respect nature with hikes and walks in the woods. She also spent years learning about the Tuscarora culture from a friend. “He was instrumental in teaching me about his culture,” she says, “introducing me to indigenous friends and helping me get back the confidence to create art after being told for years that I was no good at it and shouldn’t even try.” Today, she works full-time at the Southern Highland Craft Guild’s Biltmore Village shop.
Marcia still finds inspiration for her paintings and drawings in nature. “My process for paintings usually starts with an image I have photographed or an idea sparked by a feeling I get when I view something or someone,” she says. “In some paintings, there is a story I want to tell.” At other times she photographs a person or place she finds moving and then files it away for future use. “My reference files are so extensive that I will probably never paint all that I want to paint,” she says, “but I’m working on it!” A recent series features women with hair represented by elements of nature: feathers, antlers, sticks and seashells.
Her influences include her sister Linda Graves, her friends and people she meets while out in nature or attending pow-wows, festivals and fairs. Artists she admires and studies include Andrew Wyeth, Howard Terpning, John William Waterhouse and William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
In 2016, she illustrated the book The Flying Squirrel That Wouldn’t by author Hal Mahan. Hal and Laura Mahan co-own The Compleat Naturalist (and write a column of the same name for The Laurel each month). “Marcia’s artwork certainly brought the story in Hal’s book to life,” says Laura. “She is one of the finest artists we have ever known, and we enjoy showing people her work every day in our store.”
She works on her skills by attending life drawing sessions. “Being able to see and draw the human form is the best practice for drawing and painting anything,” she says.
“I go through phases when I want to paint nothing but flora and fauna,” Marcia says. “Then I paint portraits of indigenous people, buskers or just interesting people; then fairies and fantasy; then landscapes; then wildlife.”
Her childhood habit of picking up and being inspired by bits of nature continues to this day. “My home is full of collections of things I find and have, or will draw and paint, and I always have my camera so that I can have reference photos of people, places and things,” she says. “Being in nature and connecting to the Earth and its plants, animals and beauty always inspires me whether I use an image to paint a landscape, or simply use it as a background for a portrait. I usually include nature in some form in my paintings.” The ease with which she moves through and creates from nature has produced a philosophy for living as well. “I believe that life is a circle, and everything and everyone is related,” she says. “So we need to take better care of our natural world or we will not have enough clean air and water to survive and the circle will be broken.”
Find Marcia Dockey Smith’s work displayed at The Compleat Naturalist in Biltmore Village, at Village Framer in Waynesville and on her website, MarciasArt.com. Greeting cards featuring her work are available at Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade. She may be found on Facebook at Marcia Dockey Smith Fine Art and Instagram @marciadockeysmith. She may also be reached at 828.505.3598.