In 1938, Smith opened the Research Studio to the public. Initially named “Espero”, or “Hope” in Spanish, this was one year before Bok funded the expanded artists’ campus. Initially, Espero consisted of the two buildings and courtyard you see here. Smith’s Studio and the original “Paintbox Gallery,” as he called it, both face onto a sunny patio space.. The small gallery was later used as a library and is now repurposed as a studio.
His creation of “scenes” as a stage designer is reflected in the architectural composition of the Research Studio. Each space unfolds before the viewer in turn, with foreground, background, and subject defined by the decorative sculpture, loggias, courtyard, and landscape features. His noted 1926 book on stage design, The Scenewright, contains a drawing depicting a standardized set of windows, walls, doors, and a fireplace, with “parts [that] may be arranged for several settings” in any scene. The sections he depicts are distinctly modern, without arches or ornament, and bear a striking resemblance to the buildings he later designed here in Maitland. Smith wrote that the “scene designer is a painter-architect, a dreamer with the ability to make his dreams come true and as big as life.”
The public once entered this area through the decorative metal gate on Packwood Avenue. Artists designed this colorful, floral feature along with the other gates you will find on your tour. Artist Gino Perera, of Boston, had the design manufactured in Italy and shipped back to Florida.
Smith spent the first ten years of his life in Hong Kong with his family, and later moved to New York City. The Asian arts that impacted his childhood are reflected in the décor of this secluded patio which features three figures in high relief, including a seated Buddha-like figure with a headdress at the center. The large floral concrete screen on the far side is one of the highlights of the entire site. This skillfully executed piece permits glances of Lake Sybelia beyond and is composed of a number of separately carved elements.