September 16, 2020
Faces of Fauquier: Artist paints Old Town Warrenton
Photo/Don Del Rosso
“My paintings are everywhere, and I’m pretty hard to miss while on Main Street,” Palmer Smith says. “I’ve just built up a critical mass of people who know that I’m here.”
I have paintings I’ve spent a month on. People don’t realize that painting takes a long, long time. Everything’s instant in this society.
The fine art painter doesn’t get bored easily.
Palmer Smith, who lives near Broad Run, “conservatively” estimates that he has rendered the old courthouse in downtown Warrenton at least 50 times over the past two decades or so.
Revisiting the historic structure allows him to interpret the building in new ways and to measure his technical improvements over time, explained Mr. Smith, a skilled carpenter who still practices that trade to supplement his income as needed.
“They’re all different,” he said of the old courthouse works. “I’m really painting the light and what I see in front of me. Light is always different. So I don’t really have a formula. It’s also good to go back to something many, many times because you can gauge your progress.”
Mr. Smith, 58, added: “Now when I paint the courthouse, I have more facility. I’ve gotten to be a better artist.”
He charges $400 (16-by-20 inches) to $1,200 (20-by-30) for paintings of the old courthouse.
The structure remains a favorite partly because of its “landmark” status, Mr. Smith said. “That’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Warrenton. It’s prominent. If you look at the geography of where it is — all roads lead to the courthouse.”
The artist’s Old Town subjects also include businesses, residences and the antique caboose along the Warrenton Branch Greenway.
Today, commissions represent about 75 percent of his work, Mr. Smith said. His studio paintings can be purchased at Studio Frame Shop in Warrenton and Gargiulo Picture Framing in The Plains.
He received his biggest commission — $2,000 — for a painting of the Army chiefs of staff residence at Fort Myer in Arlington.
A stately red-brick home with white columns, “it’s where Eisenhower and MacArthur lived,” the artist noted.
Besides structures, Mr. Smith does landscapes, portraits (people and pets) and has executed the occasional still life.
When painting full time, he produces about 20 works per month, Mr. Smith said.
Most clients learn of him by word of mouth or “having seen me paint,” the painter said.
“My paintings are everywhere, and I’m pretty hard to miss while on Main Street,” said Mr. Smith, laughing. “I’ve just built up a critical mass of people who know that I’m here.”
He plans to launch a website in about a month. Until then, the artist can be reached at 540-878-3520.
He paints outdoors (“en plein air”), which “contrasts with studio . . . or academic rules that might create a predetermined look.”
The technique allows him to “catch the essence of a scene, conveying some of the feeling of what was actually there — to be there and experience it. You don’t get that working from a photograph.
An admirer of painters Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and their peers, he considers himself an Impressionist.
“I’m extremely influenced by them. I love all the Impressionists.”
Depending on a commission’s scope and complexity, it can days or weeks to complete a work, Mr. Smith said.
“I have paintings I’ve spent a month on. People don’t realize that painting takes a long, long time. Everything’s instant in this society. And they wonder why there aren’t more painters. Nobody’s got the patience or time.”
Near Broad Run
Fine art painter, 2000 to present; carpenter, 1982 to present.
• Why do you do you paint?
I started drawing when I was 15. And I realized that it was something that I loved to do. I was good at it, and it’s something I could excel at.
Daughter, Aliyah, 19.
Bachelor’s degree, painting and printmaking, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1982; Fauquier High School, 1979.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 36 years.
• Why do you live here?
I have two acres that have been handed down 12 generations. I’m building a home. My father moved here to farm when I was 12, and I just fell in love with the country.
I’m very fortunate that I can live a rural lifestyle and have an affluent community that can support my art.
• How do you describe this county?
It’s the beginning of the countryside, where you get out of all the hustle-and-bustle rat race of Northern Virginia. You get out into beautiful nature again and breathe.
It’s absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been around the rest of the country and Europe . . . . There’s something really magical about this area.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
I would close Main Street in Warrenton (to vehicles). It would be a big, walking common area where people could go out and not feel like they could be injured by being run over by a car. I think it would be a wonderful place for people to meet. And, it would really make a vibrant downtown.
• What do you do for fun?
I play music with my daughter and my friend Enzo Giambanco. I play electric guitar, bass and some drums. Most of my life, I played classical acoustic guitar. But Enzo started doing these rhythms on the acoustic guitar, and I thought I would try out the lead. I got my daughter to sing with us. We put out a couple of albums. The band’s name is “Nightingale,” and we’re on Spotify.
I play chess. I play with my dogs.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I’m truly hoping that it keeps its rural character, because that’s what we need. It could easily be overrun. But, I think people know what they have here, and it’s special. All you have to do is look at Prince William County to see where this could go.
• Favorite TV show?
• Favorite movie?
• Favorite book?
“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
• Favorite food?
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
I read something about Walt Whitman. He was talking to Horace Traubel, who was a young friend of his. And he said Horace, “Here’s some advice: Never take advice.” And I took it to heart.
Too often, people don’t examine the advice. I question everything. Doesn’t hurt to question everything. Use your critical thinking skills.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
Probably start an enormous organic farm where I would feed people. I would like to be able to use it to help as many people as I could. When you have that kind of money and energy, it’s our responsibility to see how we can improve other people’s lives.
We can bring out the best in them and the talent, because that’s what we don’t do in the world.
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Mbneece1204 · September 19, 2020 at 10:45 pm
One of the nicest, talented, most genuine man I have ever had the pleasure knowing and working with
pukaka · September 16, 2020 at 11:56 pm
A very meaningful event, I hope everything will go well run 3
Becca · September 16, 2020 at 11:00 pm
A lovely man who paints lovely things.
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