Mara Smith - Brick Sculptor    □   Biography
Another of the nine panels at the Anatole Hotel, Dallas, the commission that launched Mara's career in 1977

Biography of Mara Smith

Education and Training
1980 M.F.A., Ceramic Sculpture and Metalsmithing, Texas Woman's University & North Texas University, Denton, TX; Major Professor: J. Brough Miller

Mara studied art history,advertising, weaving, painting, and metalsmithing, but always gravitated to arts involving the earth... clay, or brick.

Career As A Brick Carver
In 1977, while Mara was still working towards her MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at TWU, she had already been offered a job teaching jewelry with the Dallas Arts Magnet School. But then she was chosen to create the brick murals decorating the outside of the new Anatole Hotel in Dallas - the project which catapulted her full-time into brick-carving, and into fame.

Coos Bay

International Reputation
Mara Smith's work on the Anatole Hotel has been seen by many, many people. It inspired other artists, and also brought new commissions in its wake. Some wanted designs directly influenced by panels from the Anatole, such as businesses with tree logos, including the Meade Bank, KY (picture above) and the Coos Bank, OR (right). The commissions grew larger and more complex, and soon brought civic as well as commercial work.

Mara has completed commissions abroad and is known internationally as well as nationally as a leading brick sculptor. The Brick Institute of America described Mara as "The pioneer of modern brick sculpture".

Mara's Studio
Brick sculptors need to be near a source of bricks and firing capability, and in 1984 Mara came to Seattle and worked with the Mutual Materials Brick Co at Newcastle (near Seattle). Such a partnership provides benefits to both sides, and eventually Mutual Materials created a studio for Mara within the brickworks, which remains her home studio to this day.

The Newcastle Brick Carving Studio, Newcastle, WA
A list of Mara's business experience:

  • Design and Construct Public and Private Sculpture Projects
  • Develop Sculpture Proposals, Specifications, Budgets and Timelines
  • Conduct Client Presentations
  • Informational Presentations for Architects, Masons, Museums and Art Organizations
  • Teach Brick Sculpture Workshops
  • Demonstration Programs About Brick Carving

Heron Mara Smith has carved over 25,000 square feet of brick in her 30 year career. Her commissions have included just about every type of use of carved brick imaginable. Although Mara excels at large civic and commercial projects, she also enjoys smaller projects for private residences, which can often be more playful and personal. She also has a knack for creating charming single-brick sculptures

Looking at the images of her work on this website, you will recognize that Mara is an artist in brick, as much as any painter or writer is an artist in their own chosen medium.

The Anatole Commission

Mara tells the story:
"The search committee, which included representatives of Acme Brick, sought artists for the brick sculpture commission. They asked my ceramics professor, John Brough Miller, if he might be interested in applying for the project. He indicated he had a job and suggested I go down to put in a proposal. 'Of course, keep in mind Dallas is conservative etc'. he said.

I went down to the Dallas World Trade Center to view their hotel model and asked them the name of the seven various restaurants to be included. Most of them had exotic names like Xanadu. Another commission included very long 50' Indian batik banners to hang inside the atrium. The ambiance was turning cross cultural ie. mythological! I drew up several ideas I matted behind a bricked clear plastic window. I could interchange the sketches in the arched matt for an elegant presentation.

On 7/7/1977 I went down to the Dallas World Trade Center to make my presentation. Surprisingly, a couple former students (well known sculptors in their own right) had teamed up to do a presentation also. I was able to overhear their talk. I consequently based my own fee on some close adaptation. At some point in the meeting, Trammell Crow let it be known his wife had dreamed a name for the Hotel the night before...The Anatole...meaning of the east. At once, hearing that word Anatole, was enough to make me feel confident I had the project. Anatolia is the ancient Amazon Kingdom of Turkey...a point seemingly beyond anyone's attention but mine. That word Anatole keyed me and my world of interest in mythology to the project. The genre was set and I, the anachronist artist, knew I had the project. Not even a need for bamboozle.

Trammell Crow himself was reputed to have a very mystical bent... although in those days his articulating how that might be translated into art was enough to give us all a brain fog. He was an avid collector of world and Asian art, much of which would be showcased in the atria [atrium?] of the hotel. I was blissfully unaware that Trammell was considered the largest landowner in the US. I was simply thrilled to be a working artist. Once I was notified I had the brick commission, I let the [Dallas Arts Magnet] school know I was going with that direction. I never looked back."

Four of the panels from the Anatole Hotel, Dallas, TX

Mara writes about brick sculpting:
"Working with brick is hard work, dirty, physically demanding, with much exposure to the elements. It's also glorious. When my knife first touched the raw clay it was as though I had always done it. The clay is the book where I have found my own history....the story of an end of a civilization and beginning of another. I don't always like to read it..sometimes I'm sure I will not ever again. Yet, it is the study I am bound to. I often consider it like archeology, done with tiny knives and a shovel. Up close, I have smelled the eons of shale of millions of years and the fossils of roses clutched yet in the clay. I walked ancient and gigantic tracks and left mine in the shallow seabed of this ancient plain."