This entry to the main gallery was added in 1940 to accommodate visitors as the popularity of Smith’s exhibitions increased. The oversized door welcomed guests to an intimate gallery, whey they could experience and enjoy the artistic works produced at the Research Studio. Smith placed stylized initials of “RS” in script above the entry and decorated the walls with Mayan-inspired reliefs.
The use of concrete for the decorative elements throughout the Research Studio is consistent with the finish of other buildings of this style during the Art Deco period in the late 1930s. In fact, concrete was perhaps the closest modern approximation of the limestone used in authentic Mayan constructions.
Described variously as Aztec or Mayan Revival, Fantastic, or Plastic, the sculptures and reliefs at the Research Studio and Chapel, at least two hundred in number, adorn nearly every door opening, patio, roofline, or arch. Each of these works “sprang from the imagination of a man who pondered other worlds than the present, physical one” according to Smith himself.
Smith denied any direct inspiration for his sculptural work and figurative reliefs. But, Smith was an Ivy-League-educated artist and widely read; his personal library contained more than 700 books. From his travels throughout Europe and by the titles in his own possession, it is evident that Smith maintained familiarity with a number of leading thinkers and practitioners of his time, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Walter Gropius to Walt Disney. Smith also cultivated an extensive knowledge of historic movements in art including Asian, the Renaissance, Surrealism, Aztec and Mayan. The cumulative effect, then, of the architecture and sculpture at the Research Studio is one that is characteristically American—a melting pot of secular images, religious iconography, pagan objects, and artistic traditions from around the world.
As you enter the gallery area to your left is the Mayan Room. Painted murals adorn all the walls in the gallery that looks out over the grounds. Murals are painted directly on the wall and are incorporated into the architecture. Do you consider murals to be artwork? If so why?