When David Smith was a kid, his grandmother gave him a Bible illustrated with images of Egyptian, Sumerian, and other ancient art. Smith kept this Bible with him in his studio throughout his career. A trip to the British Museum in London when he was an adult reawakened his interest in Egyptian art, Greek coins, and Sumerian cylinder seals. If you look closely, you can see references to these ancient arts in Smith’s sculpture. Smith’s notebooks show that he was inspired by sources as diverse as Life magazine photographs, fossilized fish, and objects from Egyptian tombs.
While working at a car factory during the summer of 1925, Smith learned welding, a manufacturing process used to join pieces of metal together. He did not realize he could also use this skill to make art until he saw images of welded sculptures by artists Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Julio González (1876–1942) in 1932.
“If you ask me why I make sculpture, I answer that it is my way of life, my balance, and my justification for being.”