Ralph Smith

July 12, 1919July 28, 2010

Ralph Smith was born on July 12, 1919 in Petaluma, California. He moved to Virginia in 1958 with his wife Ferne S. Smith, they were married for 68 years. He resided in Virginia until his passing on July 28, 2010.

Ralph loved to travel and the outdoors, especially fishing. He learned to tie his own flies and also sold some of them to purchase a Johnston outboard motor for his boat. Family vacations were spent traveling to places like Rapid City, South Dakota; Kennebunkport, Maine and Winter Harbor, Maine where Ralph would paint and the kids would fish or play by the waters edge.

Ralph studied art at Arts and Crafts, The Art Center in California and the American University in Washington DC. He also studied with Washington area artist, Chen Chi, Edward Betts, William F. Walter, Marcos Blahove, Antonios Karafyllakis, Edgar Whitney and Barse Miller.

Ralph worked for the Department of Navy. He retired to pursue his passion for painting. He opened his own studio, Gas Light Studio of Fine Art where he began to teach. Painting seemed effortless for him. He began conducting the Ralph Smith Workshops around 1975. He traveled and conducted workshops for over 30 years to places like Beaufort and Charleston, South Carolina; Outer Banks and Nags Head North Carolina; Winter Harbor, Desert Island, and Monhegan Maine; Black Hills and Rapid City, South Dakota; Canaan Valley, West Virginia; Ghost Ranch and Taos, New Mexico; and Canyon de Chelly, Arizona; and Newfoundland, Canada. He always enjoyed "creative outdoor painting", teaching small groups of students so the classes would feel personal and intimate.

Ralph was a member of the America Watercolor Society and the Virginia Watercolor Society. He won many awards, AWS Bronze Medal of Honor 2003, AWS Bronze Medal of Honor 2004 and DIDI DEGLIN award 2009, are only a few. Ralph also achieved membership to the AWS Dolphin Fellowship. He was always excited to win awards for his paintings but seemed more excited when one of his students won.

Ralph had paintings exhibited in galleries all over the country, states included: Virginia, South Dakota, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Colorado, Tennessee, Utah, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky, DC, Maryland and Oklahoma.

Artist's Statement: Motivation are the creations from the mind of the viewer, that anyone can paint as well, that anyone can relegate, and imagine anything from the brain. Everyone can paint what the mind senses and sees. It is another pathway the artists can cross the barren field and see what the mind has conceived.

It is a marvelous means to communicate mental visions to another human being.

Ralph is survived by a wife of 68 years, Ferne S. Smith in Virginia, a son Peter J. Smith and his wife Sherry in North Carolina, a daughter Beverly C. Steffen and her husband Art in Virginia, grandchildren Emily and Mackenzie Steffen in Virginia, and a brother, Roland A. Smith in Califonia.


As a tribute to Ralph, we are establishing and award through the American Watercolor Society Awards Show in New York City.

If you would like to contribute to this award, please make your check payable to the "American Watercolor Society" and in the memo section of your check, please write "Ralph Smith Award". All contributions are tax deductable.

Contributions can be sent to the following:

Beverly Steffen (Smith) 9940 Wood Grouse Court Burke, VA 22015

If you have any questions, please contact Bev Perdue-Jennings at

Bev Steffen on (703) 216-3763 or e-mail at


  • Memorial Service Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ralph Smith

have a memory or condolence to add?


receive updates when new memories are posted

Paul & Patricia Beha

August 20, 2010

Pete, Sherry, and Families: Mr. Smith lived a truly fascinating and inspiring life. In knowing Pete, we can see his Dad's legacy lives on in him and, assuredly, in his family and all who knew him. God Bless you all. Paul and Patricia

August 14, 2010

Ralph was an exceptional teacher and he taught with his caring and gentle spirit. I was able to see a new dimension in painting through his guidance. I have saved almost all the paintings I did in his workshops. He touched all of us in such a meaningful way. I will miss his words of wisdom. America will honor him in history as one of the greats! Janice Donelson,Vienna, Va.

Chris & Kathie Kemp

August 13, 2010

To Pete and the Smith Family: Thank you for sharing Mr. Smith's integrity as a person and his gracious talent as an artist. We never met him but we have met his son, and see the man reflected in Pete. Godspeed and many blessings to Mr. Smith and his loved ones. We send tribute to a life well-lived and loved. Chris and Kathie

John Wheeler

August 13, 2010

Pete, Bev and Mrs. memories of Mr. Smith will always be filled with a lot of laughs mixed with awe as I watched what he was able to create on canvas. However, I also knew Mr. Smith, the non-painter, for almost 50 years. He was a kind person who kept a close eye on all of us boys while not having to say to much to keep us in-line. I feel very honored to have known him and to count his family as my own. You are all in my thoughts, John

August 13, 2010

Pete, your father was a fascinating and amazing person. Thanks for sharing his life with us. Our thoughts are with you and your family. We love you brother and are here for you and Sherry if you need anything at all. Hutch.

Jeff & Melody McKeel

August 12, 2010

Our thoughts and prayers are with you in your time of grief. May your memories bring you comfort.

Anne Was

August 12, 2010

There cannot be many people who have lived and breathed painting the way Ralph did during the years I knew him. Only his family took precedence over painting in his life - he adored them and spoke of each one of them lovingly and proudly. He was passionate about life, humorous, generous, and gentle in his attitude. One thing which I loved about him in such an unreliable world was his steadfast integrity. And oh, his sense of humor!! I remember many occasions when he was reduced to tears of laughter over a memory (such as the time two portrait paintings - one being Kemper Dobbins' self-portrait - when put beside eachother in a Nags Head critique session, stared glaringly at eachother).
I've been looking over my notebooks from workshops, re-reading Ralph's words of wisdom. A wonderful book could be written (and maybe it will be someday) about what he taught us. But one of my favorite quotes from him is "When I paint, I'm trying to steal nature's secrets."
Ralph, your students would say you succeeded in doing just that. You were always striving to learn and improve, and you insisted that your students do no less. You painted for yourself, for the joy of it, and not to please anyone else. As a friend mentioned to me yesterday, it would be nice to hope that you are painting right now, since that would mean without doubt that you are truly, truly happy.
We'll miss you, but we will never forget you.

Peter Smith

August 11, 2010

WHAT DAD MEANT TO ME: Dad always supported me in everything I did no matter what it was. From a very young age I always remember his love for painting and the outdoors. My dad would always take me to one of the area lakes so that I could fish, while I fished dad would paint. I have several of his painting hanging on my walls today that bring back the fond memories of some of my favorite fishing holes. Alot of people have photos but I have my dad's paintings to remember these places.

Every year dad would take the family on the annual trip to South Dakota to visit with mom's family. We all really enjoyed those trips, but I think my dad enjoyed it the most. Imagine two kids traveling by car 1800 miles with no A/C, no Ipods or any other electronic devices to pass the time, WOW!

As you probably might have guessed by now I had to go fishing, and several mornings before dawn, dad, Grammy and I would head off to Sheridan Lake for a day of fishing. What a magical time! We always filled our cooler with a limit of Rainbow Trout.

One of the other things we would do was hunt for Dinosaur bones in the Badlands, we found quite a few and boy was it hot!

Later in my teens dad would pack us all up and head to Maine. Dad would spend the days being instructed in painting and I, of course, would go fishing. Dad always wanted to know what I had caught that day.

As you can tell I did alot of fishing and not much painting. I tried with dad's patient help. I would start a painting get frustrated and dad would have to help me finish it. I still have these paintings and maybe someday soon I might take up painting again.

One of the true joys my dad would get out of painting was when people would ask the meaning of one of his pieces. He would just smile and say "what does this painting mean to you"? Dad always loved to hear what people had to say.

My dad always worked very hard in his life and also enjoyed life tremendously. Dad was a great provider for mom and us, and a great Father to me, he also was a great friend. My dad was strict but fair. Dad made me earn everything that I wanted in life and looking back I would not have wanted it any other way. I am the man I am today because of my dad and I thank him for that. I was pretty lucky that leading up to my dad's passing that he told me how proud he was of me and I hope that I came close to his expectations.

Chris Haltigan

August 6, 2010

Ralph was a true friend and mentor for so long. I wish everyone could have a friend like Ralph, with his gentle caring spirit, humor, guidance, and respect for each friend's ideas. He showed us the wider world of travel with fellow artists and encouraged his students to keep growing. He was a true master in his art. Many very good artists respect his work and acknowedged his talent. I miss him so much and know we have lost an exceptional man.

Chica Brunsvold

August 5, 2010

Ralph was an artist's artist, true to his convictions and yet eager to investigate and try new methods and ideas. He shared that eagerness with his students and did his very best to help them excel in whatever they attempted. His gentle, reserved nature is rare indeed in one with his vast talent. He received the highest honors in the American and Virginia Watercolor Societies but seemed even more delighted when his students achieved success! He was amazingly unassuming and kind and deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest of the great masters.