Shirley Smith papers

Identity elements

Reference code

US US kmk P2014.1o

Level of description



Shirley Smith papers


  • 1937-2011 (Creation)


9.00 Linear Feet, 17.00 Boxes plus 1 oversize drawer.

Name of creator


Biographical history

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 the 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 died in New York in October 2013.
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.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The Shirley Smith Papers (1937-2011) include a wide array of varying fields and topics following the life and career of Shirley Smith. Growing up in rural Kansas and graduating from Kansas State College in 1951, Smith moved to New York City to begin her career as a model, then Broadway actress. In the early 1960s, Smith began to lose her hearing and focused her talents instead on an art career, which she continued for over 50 years. Much of her artwork hearkens back to Kansas roots, while other pieces are considered within the lyrical abstraction art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

System of arrangement

The collection includes 17 boxes and one folder stored in a flat drawer case comprising 9 linear feet. It is divided into 9 series: 1) Correspondence; 2) Early Life and Personal; 3) Acting Career; 4) Art Career; 5) Literary Works; 6) Photographs; 7) Printed Materials; 8) Digital Media, and; 9) Oversize. Series 1 (Box 1) contains correspondence from throughout Smith’s life and career. Some of the most notable correspondents include actors Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Yul Brenner, Lee Falk, and Alan Cranston. Other correspondents include Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Robert Dole, and Gordon Parks. This series also contains correspondence with art museums, regarding exhibitions of Smith’s work.
Series 2 (Box 2) contains personal documents chronicling Smith’s early life in rural Kansas (focused on high school), as well as her time at Kansas State College. Additionally, this section contains early resumes outlining Smith’s acting and modeling careers.
Series 3 (Box 2) contains playbills and clippings regarding Smith’s career in theater and on television from 1954 to 1960. Some of the most noted performances included her breakthrough role in Picnic (1954) and The Golden Fleecing (1960).
Series 4 (Box 3) contains not only influences and inspirations for Smith’s artwork, but programs and notices regarding exhibitions of her art from the 1970s on into the late 2000s. This series concludes with resumes of her work related to art, especially highlighting the achievement award she received from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1991.
Series 5 (Box 4 through 6) contains Ms. Smith’s literary works. Box 4 holds her early writings at Whitewater High School, as well as other personal writing including personal and written statements and notes regarding her art. Additionally, the box contains Smith’s incredibly intimate poetry (most written in the late 1950s to late 1970s). Box 5 and 6 contain multiple drafts of Smith’s memoirs (entitled I’m Off to Catch the Sunset) which are separated into sections. Drafts of the section entitled “The Undertaker’s Daughter,” are contained in box 6.
Series 6 (Boxes 7 through 9) contain photographs taken throughout Smith’s life.  Box 7 contains photographs from Smith’s early life in Whitewater, Kansas, and at Kansas State.  Following these are photographs from Smith’s modeling and acting career, including various headshots. Finally, photographs of Smith with her artwork and later in life complete box 7. Box 8 contains photographs of her art pieces, spanning nearly fifty years from the early 1960s to 2010. Finally, Box 9 contains art related to pigs (one of Smith’s most influential models for art).
Series 7 (Box 10) contains printed materials in three sections, “Musical Scores,” “Modeling Advertisements,” and “Art Exhibition Booklets.”
Series 8 (Box 11) includes digital media on 27 Disks of photographs and documents that span much of Smith’s career as an actress and, primarily, as an artist, as well as portions of an unpublished memoir, a DVD documentary called “A Pig’s Life,” and a retrospective DVD of photographs of Smith’s life and works.
Series 9 (Boxes 12 through 17 and one flat drawer case) include the largest pieces of the collection. Box 12 contains 32 personal appointment and address books and 13 contains a substantial collection of slides of photographs taken in Kansas, as well as slides of later “figurative painting” farm- animal art pieces (ca 1980-2000s). Box 14 contains transparencies and slides of photographs of Kansas landscapes, pigs, and other farm animals taken in the 1980s and 90s, along with slides of an earlier artwork, including Smith’s “Lyrical Abstraction” Collection (1969-1972). Box 15 includes larger modeling photographs, while 16 includes art-related media, including paint pallets and figure sketches. Box 17 includes items related to the  “Shirley Smith: A Retrospective” Exhibition at the Beach Museum of Art (1999), including a commemorative plaque, promotional pictures on foam core, pig photographs from the “I Love Pigs” installation, and an album of interviews with various individuals regarding pigs. Finally, the flat drawer case folder contains modeling advertisements for Helzberg Diamonds published in the Kansas City Star.

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

No access restriction:  All materials are open for research.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

It received accession number P2014.10.

Immediate source of acquisition

Acqusition Source: Scott Smith, nephew
Acqusition Method: Donation
Acqusition Date: 20140101

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information


Related materials elements

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related archival materials

Related descriptions

Specialized notes

  • Citation: [Item title], [item date], Shirley Smith papers, Box [number], Folder [number or title], Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

Alternative identifier(s)

Archon Collection ID


Description control element

Rules or conventions

Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Sources used

Information entered in Archon by Audrey Swartz, 2017.

Archivist's note

Finding Aid Author: Haley Claxton
Processing Info: The collection was processed by student assistant and History major, Haley Claxton, in 2014
Publication Date: 2017-02-03

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