Healing comes with every brushstroke


Artist Beth Smith has come a long way since she started painting in 2016. A former ER nurse, Smith has devoted herself full-time to her second career since retiring from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital staff in 2019. Now she has made a name for herself in the Vineyard art scene, showing at various places around the Island. Currently a selection of her colorful local landscapes is on exhibit at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse through May 6.

Smith’s expressionist work is the result of much experimentation and dedication. She started dabbling in art after her daughter Alison died suddenly of sepsis in 2010. After three years of profound grieving, Smith found comfort in spending time with brushes and canvas in her late daughter’s bedroom. “When I first started painting, I could feel her presence,” she says. “She was connecting me to this. I just gave in and let go.”

Smith’s husband and her other daughter were very supportive of her new venture, encouraging her to show her work, which was well received almost immediately. In 2017 and 2018 she won awards at the Tabernacle Art Show, the Ag Fair, and the Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs. She is currently showing work at Juniper and Portobello Road in Edgartown, and at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. “So many Island people really encouraged me,” says the artist. “They took me under their wing.”

From the beginning, Smith has favored acrylics. More recently she has added charcoal to the mix. She primarily focuses on realism, but in the past she has also experimented with abstract work.

In the past few years, Smith says, she has really been working on perfecting her Island images. She notes that her colors have veered from somber to brighter hues. Referring to her recent paintings, she says, “My brushstroke has changed. I started lightening up as I started feeling better. They’re not so dark anymore. This is like a catharsis for me.”

In her artist’s statement, Smith writes, “My goal is to transport people to that place on the canvas — the dunes, the sea, the clouds, and to feel the breeze from the marshes — and to always remember Alison.”

Smith has favorite scenes that she tends to revisit. Among those are Polly Hill, Harthaven, and Tradewinds (also known to locals as the dog park). An example of one of her renderings of that scene is included in the playhouse exhibit. She has expertly captured the contrast between the gold tones of the autumn field with the dark woods surrounding the area. A lone building with a red roof and red flag is the focal point in a painting that features a lot of texture and interesting brushstrokes. “I just loved it when I went to work at the hospital every day and passed that beautiful hanger,” says Smith of her attraction to the quiet scene.

Another standout in the show is a view of the Aquinnah Cliffs. Smith has managed to capture that perfect moment in the early evening when the low angle of the sun makes the whites of the clay Cliffs stand out brilliantly. It’s an evocative and distinctive view of a scene popular among Island artists.

Since commencing a serious foray into art, Smith has taken time to appreciate the work of other Island artists. She notes that she visits Island galleries as often as possible, and cites Allen Whiting, Anne Besse-Shepherd, and Mary Sipp-Green as some of her favorite local artists.

Up next for the artist, her husband is in the process of building a studio on the couple’s Oak Bluffs property, where Smith will be able to paint and show her work. She intends to open the studio to the public this summer.

Among her other interests, Smith says she likes gardening and cooking, but her first love these days is creating art. “My friends say, Are you ever coming out again?” says Smith. “I feel so fortunate to live where I do. What’s better than the light on the Vineyard in the morning?”