Conservationist Paints Out His Vision Of The Outdoors


September 23, 1990|By Marie V. Forbes

The first thing you notice about wildlife artist Frank Burt Smoot is his gentle, courteous manner and his reticence in speaking of his own achievements.

Only when the subject of destroying natural forestland to construct a highway is introduced do you catch a glimpse of the passion that has for more than six decades fired this prominent conservationist's concern for the environment.

Thousands of Carroll countians are familiar with Smoot's realistic paintings of fish and wildlife through exhibitions at the Westminster Outdoor Art Show, Piney Run Nature Center and Hashawha Nature Center.

Chris Daneker of Union Mills recalled her family's encounter with Smoot at Hashawha: "Smoot asked the children what was their favorite animal," she said.

"One of my children asked for a squirrel on a branch and the other wanted a billy goat."

"In about 30 seconds he sketched them out with black crayon and gave them to the kids. He really did a wonderful job."

The trout that linger in the shady recesses of Morgan Run have inspired some of Smoot's most successful paintings. Using a technique known as "aqua-tint" and working in both opaque and transparent watercolors, he manages to capture the very essence of the underwater world.

"Aqua-tints were very popular in the early 1900s," Smoot said. "Color printing was unknown, and they were sold as a cheaper means of producing hand-colored prints."

The rainbow trout in particular captures the fancy of this 84-year-old wildlife artist who is also an avid fisherman.

"He's brave . . . sits out in the open. When he's hooked he gives everything he has to a leaping fight."

Smoot's paintings provide one medium by which he expresses his interest in the natural world, but the Baltimorean's involvement in the outdoors and in conservation ranges far beyond his skills with pen and brush.

Smoot's career as a conservationist began in 1928 when he worked for passage of the Migratory Game Bird Act. To list even a sampling of his achievements since that time would require much more space than is allotted to this column.

His far-ranging conservation efforts have been extended not only through local game and fish associations but also at the state level, where he lobbied and served on legislative committees, including a stint as a member of Gov. J. Millard Tawes' State Firearms Commission.

If there is one group that is closest to Smoot's heart, one suspects it is the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock, an outdoors group that takes its name from the exotic jungle bird.

Founded in 1938, the group has as its purpose "teaching boys the art of fishing, the love of the outdoors and the importance of conservation of our natural resources."

Smoot has, over the years, contributed his time and his talents to helping the group achieve those goals. He likes to equate the group's philosophy with the development of skills practiced by early humans, when the ability to hunt and fish were critical for survival.

"As mental abilities increased, so did an awareness of and appreciation of Nature's beauties and bounty, over and beyond the need for food and clothing," Smoot wrote in the Jungle Cock's 50th anniversary publication.

In 1988, a perpetual endowment was opened in Smoot's name -- to be used to sponsor deserving youths to the annual Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock campfires.

"We would like to think that the thousands of youngsters and adults attending these campfires are not only better anglers but better citizens as well," Smoot said.

In the 1940s, when the Department of Natural Resources had no money in its budget for hunter safety programs, Smoot was instrumental in initiating the program in Maryland. To date, he has taught more than 7,000 adults and children not only how to handle firearms but other skills such as ethics, survival and first aid.

"My father was on the cutting edge of environmental issues," said Smoot's daughter, Marilyn Vanderpool of Owings Mills. "He has been instrumental in the establishment of state parks and protected wilderness areas throughout Maryland.

"He has served on legislative boards and lobbied extensively for conservation issues, especially during the '50s and '60s when the developmental explosion threatened to destroy many natural areas."

Vanderpool's own choice of a career was strongly influenced by her father's work: She and her husband are producers of environmental films.

Another sister, Janice Cline, is a nationally known batik artist, and a brother, Frank II, is active with Greenpeace.

Today, some six decades after he first joined the push for safer, saner environmental practices, Frank Smoot is still using his skills as an artist and his many years of experience as an outdoorsman to educate youngsters and adults on the need to conserve and protect our natural resources.

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