Growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, Debra Smith was surrounded by creativity. Both her grandmother and mother provided material inspiration that would ultimately lead Debra to her career as a textile artist. Smith’s grandmother wove rag rugs and her mother wove textiles using a traditional Navajo loom. It was no surprise that when it came time to go to college that Smith would attend art school. Her portfolio for admission to the Kansas City Art Institute included many nontraditional materials from the Hannibal Arts Council workshops that she attended as a child—everything from cyanotypes to raku pottery made in a backyard fire pit.
While studying at KCAI, Smith began weaving her now popular and much sought-after silk sakiori scarves. One afternoon Fifi White, co-founder of Asiatica, dropped off some kimono remnants for the students to use as art material in their work. A few weeks later, White returned to KCAI and purchased some of Smith’s completed work in a student sale. White then showed them to Elizabeth Wilson, the other co-founder of Asiatica. Wilson instantly recognized the kimono fabric as part of their KCAI donation, and Smith’s longtime connection to Asiatica was formed.
Smith’s career as studio artist began soon after her graduation from KCAI in 1993 when, at the invitation of John O’Brien, she began showing her work at the Dolphin Gallery. The pieces from that period were made primarily from the silk kimono fabric lining that was too thin of a fabric for Asiatica to make garments. Smith was drawn to the vibration, the history of these fabrics. Over the years, through scouring the Garment District in New York and attending private kimono sales around the world, she has been able to introduce more color to her artistic palette.
During the 10 years that she lived in New York, she began showing nationally and internationally. She has shown her work at the Rijswijk Museum in the Netherlands, the Davidson Gallery in Australia and numerous national exhibitions.
Currently, she is an artist-in-residence at Studio Inc. in Kansas City, a nonprofit arts organization that provides studio space, professional development, networking and exhibitions for mid-career artists in Kansas City. Her one-person show will open November 10 at Studio Inc. located at 1708 Campbell St. The show is open to the public, and her studio will also be open that evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Smith is represented by Haw Contemporary in Kansas City. Additionally, she is represented by Markel Fine Art in New York City. She has work in numerous collections including those of Sprint; American Century; Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Blue Cross Blue Shield; and the Hallmark Art Collection.
For more information about Smith and her work, visit DebraMSmith.com.