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Smith, Shirley (1937-2011) | Morse Department of Special Collections

Name: Smith, Shirley (1937-2011)


Historical Note:

The Shirley Smith Papers (1937-2011) contain a wide array of information regarding the unique life and career path, from rural Kansas to New York City, of Kansas State alumnus Shirley Smith. Smith’s papers are of importance not only as a record of personal history, but history within the modeling, art, and acting worlds as well. The collection includes a variety of formats into which most of the papers are organized according to series and subseries. Research strengths of the collection include regional and biographical history of Smith’s hometown, Whitewater, Kansas, as well as more substantial documentation of Smith’s career as a model, actress, and artist.

Shirley Smith was born in Whitewater, Kansas in 1929. By the time she  graduated high school in 1947, her career as a model was already beginning as she entered (and won) several beauty pageants in her hometown. Soon, she moved on to Kansas State College, becoming heavily involved in theater, and graduating in 1951.

After graduating, Smith began her modeling career by modeling in advertisements for Kansas City’s Helzberg Diamonds in 1952. Soon, Smith moved to New York to continue to model for several major lingerie companies, including Maidenform. Following her modeling career, Smith moved on to acting in shows on Broadway and soon took roles on television and in a movie as well. Several of her most notable appearances include a play entitled The Highest Tree, which also featured Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and a starring role in a 1956 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Alibi Me”). Smith also appeared alongside Peter Falk in the motion picture film Pretty Boy Floyd.

In her early 30s, Smith began to suffer hearing loss and turned her focus toward her art career.  Beginning with collages and other forms of abstract art, Smith moved on to “lyrical abstraction,” a form of post-modern art, which included fabrics and various other mediums.  Later in her career, she returned to her roots, painting pastoral scenes of rural Kansas and farm animals, especially pigs. Smith spent several summers in a trailer studio outside of Whitewater, Kansas as inspiration for her work.

Note Author: Haley Claxton





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