The Morgan and Marvin Smith papers document the careers of the Smith brothers as professional photographers, in the television and sound industry, and as needlework artists. Marvin's career as a set decorator and his artwork are also discussed. Only a small amount of correspondence is contained in this collection.
The Morgan and Marvin Smith series consists of biographical information about the two brothers as well as their joint career. An interview conducted with them by the International Black Photographers in 1982 is included, along with news clippings and printed articles. There is also a scrapbook of news clippings containing many of the photographs they took for the "New York Amsterdam News" and the "Pittsburgh Courier," some articles about them, as well as Kentucky newspapers in which the brothers were featured or articles which interested them, 1933-1948. The collection includes information regarding Morgan's coverage of the 1972 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, many television specials and a television series about President Harry S. Truman.
Exhibitions of the Smith brothers' photographs at several institutions are documented by planning material, exhibition catalogs and news clippings, 1988-1996. The 1995 film "M & M Smith: For Posterity's Sake" by Heather Lyons and Nikky Finney, and the book "Visual Journey: Harlem and D.C. in the Thirties and Forties," 1996, edited by Deborah Willis and Jane Lusaka, are documented in this series. The Smith's involvement in needlework is demonstrated by articles showing the patterns they created and sold to such magazines as "McCalls's Needlework and Crafts" and "Good Housekeeping Needlework," 1972-1988.
The Morgan Smith series includes biographical information, programs for performances of his wife, coloratura soprano Monica Mais, a small amount of correspondence regarding publication of photographs, printed material and obituaries. Of interest are drafts of articles Morgan wrote about photography as well as a newspaper column entitled "From Harlem to Broadway" which appeared in "The Entertainer," 1945-1946. The Marvin Smith series includes biographical information, his sketchbook, printed material in which his artwork is mentioned, his involvement as a photographer with the U.S. Navy Seabees in the South Pacific during World War II, and his career as a set decorator in television and film.
As major photographers in Harlem from the 1930's through the 1950's whose work appeared on covers and within magazines, as well as in print ads, a significant portion of the collection consists of their published photographs.
Morgan and Marvin Smith, identical twins, were born in 1910 in Kentucky and developed an early interest in art and photography. They moved to Harlem in 1933 and studied art with Augusta Savage. In 1937 Morgan was hired as the first staff photographer for the "New York Amsterdam News," a position he held until 1939. That same year the brothers opened a photo studio, which they called the M. Smith Studio, next door to Harlem's renowned Apollo Theater on 125 Street. The twins photographed such legendary figures as Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Eartha Kitt, Pablo Picasso, and Albert Einstein. They took photographs for African-American magazines such as "Color," "Ebony," "Opportunity," and "Life," as well as photographs for print advertisements which appeared in magazines and newspapers.
In 1942 Marvin enlisted in the Navy with the 34th Seabees, and served as Chief Photographer's Mate in the South Pacific. Between 1950-1952 he studied art in Paris with Ferdinand Leger. While Marvin was in the Navy, Morgan set up a photography studio in New York and experimented with sound recordings in the studio. By 1954 both brothers were working in the television and film industry, Morgan working for ABC and Marvin for NBC. They closed the studio in 1968, retired from their television positions in 1974, and in their seventies resumed an interest in needlework crafts. Interest in their photographs was sparked in the 1980's with exhibitions of their work, a book and a documentary film. Morgan died at age 83 in 1993, and Marvin passed away ten years later.