What became of Dr. Smith? A hidden Mississippi history

Published 11:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

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Raised in Natchez, Noah Saterstrom is widely recognized as one of the major Southern artists active today. Educated in art at the University of Mississippi and Scotland’s renowned Glasgow School of Art, Noah now resides and paints in Nashville.

In the Mississippi Museum of Art’s 2018 Mississippi Bicentennial Show, “Picturing Mississippi, 1817-2017, Land of Plenty, Pain, and Promise,” Noah’s large painting, “Road to Shubuta” (2016) was featured among the once-in-a-lifetime assembly of defining art of the history of Mississippi. The painting now is part of the Museum’s permanent collection. Noah’s work is prolific, available at various prominent galleries, and even graces the cover of Ann Patchett’s 2019 novel, “The Dutch House.”

In October of this year, the Museum will open a solo show of a monumental, literally monumental, new work by Noah, “What Became of Dr. Smith?”. This painting is mural-sized, 120 feet by 6 feet, and consists of 160 panels, some of which are set in Natchez.

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What is the subject of such a large new work by this significant artist that the Mississippi Museum of Art deems so important as to merit a solo show in the Fall? The painting centers around the life-trajectory of Noah’s great grandfather, Dr. David Lawson Smith, in early and mid-20th century Mississippi. The painting is the result of Noah’s research into the disappearance of his great grandfather from family history and mention. Having found Dr. Smith in the historical record, Noah in this work traces Dr. Smith through his life, times, and places in the State. This is a painting that, intriguingly and revealingly, depicts aspects of Mississippi history through a pictorial biography of a single and singular person.

Who better to bring to the Natchez Historical Society’s regular monthly meeting, this Tuesday, March 28, a preview and explanation of the show than the curator of it, Dr. Megan Hines? Megan is a post-doctoral fellow in art history at the Museum and Millsaps College, and has been working on the development of the show since last year. This is only Megan’s second visit to Noah’s home town, and she is enthused to come here and offer us an advance look at the show. How fitting for Natchez that it should be so!

The meeting will be at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce St., with a social starting at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation at 6:00. All are invited, members and non-members, alike. A lively treat for the eyes and mind is promised, as well as an in depth exposure to one of Natchez’s artistic contributors to the wider world.

ALAN WOLF is a director of the Natchez Historical Society and its programming chair.