Margaret Donnell Smith was born on November 9, 1922, in Pulaski, Virginia, the fourth of five children born to Mary Elizabeth Wysor Smith and Robert Hall Smith. Soon the family moved to Roanoke, Virginia, where Margaret's father continued his rise in the railroad business. By 1948, he was President of the Norfolk & Western Railroad.
Margaret showed her artistic talent at an early age and both parents encouraged her. She presented her father with her first oil painting when she was only 11. Mr. Smith declared it his favorite of all her works, and the little landscape hung in his bedroom until his death in 1960.
One of Margaret's early art teachers was Tina Richardson, a fine artist in her own right, who remained a lifelong friend. Margaret attended public schools in Roanoke, graduating from Jefferson High School among the top in her class.
She stayed in Roanoke to take advantage of the wonderful art department at Hollins College, where Margaret came under the tutelage of Professor John Ballator. After two years at Hollins, Professor Ballator informed her that he'd taught her all he knew. Margaret's excellent eye for color surrounds you.
In 1941, Margaret arrived in Chicago, where she lived at the famed Three Arts Club and began her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, arguably then and now the best art school in the country.
At the Art Institute, she studied with Edgar Rupprecht. Some of the tempera works you see in this exhibition are from that period and were exercises done very quickly. Her children rescued these from a thick stack hidden away in a closet.
After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Chicago, she tried her hand at teaching, at Hollins and in Blackstone, Virginia. Then she moved back to Roanoke where, in 1948, Margaret married David Comfort Watkins, whose business took them to Charlotte Court House. There they had four children in the following nine years.
Margaret has never stopped painting. From oil portraits to pastels to paintings done entirely with a palette knife, her works run the gamut from realism to landscapes to still lifes to the abstract.
Her portraits hang not only in private homes, but in several Courthouses within this area. The Medical College of Virginia and the University of Virginia purchased two of her paintings. The walls of the homes of her four children are covered with her work. Countless friends and relatives have one or more of her paintings.
Margaret has always kept a full box of art supplies of all kinds, first for her children, and now for her grandchildren. Her talents skipped a generation, but there is great promise among several of her grandchildren.