After his move to Florida, Smith entered into a renewed period of artistic expression, finding inspiration in the natural environment. He promoted his Maitland arts colony as a “new machine for art and living,” and wrote of the connection between physical seclusion and artistic achievement. “The sky is the limit,” he promised new residents, encouraging them to “travel a more exciting route, and let yourself move without fear of criticism along the lanes of new thoughts and ideas…express yourself and no one else.”
Smith dedicated this central courtyard to Annie Russell, a mutual friend of his and Mary Curtis Bok. She was an internationally recognized actress at the turn of the century and performed in many plays in Great Britain and the U.S.
Many artistic and design details distinguish this small courtyard. Russell’s initials, AR, are carved in concrete above the loggia, or covered porch, on the opposite side of the courtyard. A repeating series of laughing faces decorates the roofline, bringing to mind the Greek acting tradition of comedic masks. A large mural inside the loggia depicts a celebratory Mayan-inspired musical scene. If you look closely, you can see the date of the Research Studio in concrete at the upper corner of the tower commemorating the opening year of 1937.
At the center of the courtyard is an imported Venetian well. A figure of Christ enhances the north wall, with birds, geometric patterns, and Mayan figures layered throughout the area. On the opposite side of a column near the tower, André secured a custom-designed concrete plaque to the wall with a dedicatory inscription, writing “The Research Studio was founded in 1937 by Mary Curtis Bok for the purpose of encouraging the explorative approach to the art problems of the day.” One of Smith’s more elaborate carved concrete reliefs decorates a wall near the tower stairs.
As you pass through the entryway to your left, take note of the unique mural near the restrooms, in which Smith freely incorporates images from a variety of cultures. The Mayan figures on the double entry doors leading to Studio 7 play western-style cymbals and a mandolin while standing atop a pair of reclining unicorns, which are important in Christian, Asian, and Greek cultures.