Dr. Charles Smith

(b. 1940)

Dr. Charles Smith has developed a powerful social and artistic vision, and a consistent, cohesive body of work on his property in Aurora, Illinois. Using concrete, found items, and other materials, he created an art environment of more than 600 sculptures that was an expression of a collective cultural experience. His African American Heritage Museum and Black Veteran’s Archive chronicled both well-known and obscure events in African American history, each related to individuals, incidents, or places in African American history.

Dr. Smith uses the self-appointed title Dr. to connote the status he feels he has earned from the studies he has completed and the life experiences he has accumulated. He spent over 15 years creating and operating his museum, always making it available to the public with the hope of sharing his message and educating visitors. A Vietnam veteran and college graduate, Smith has served as the national executive director of the African/American Association, a liaison position between Illinois congress members and the Congressional Black Caucus. He was ordained at the Virginia Black Training Academy in response to “a religious calling.”

His mother, now deceased, was an inspiration and vital force in his life. He elected to leave his home and the art environment he called the African American Heritage Museum when she was in her late 80s and in poor health. He moved back to New Orleans to care for her. It was at this juncture in 2001 that Kohler Foundation became involved in the preservation of Dr. Smith’s work.

Unfortunately, for many practical and political reasons, the site was not able to be preserved in situ. Plus, it was Dr. Smith’s dream to see his work placed in museums and other venues across the country to spread his message and share his dream. His dream came true with approximately 500 sculptures being preserved and placed in 19 institutions, including the collections of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Houston Museum, African-American Heritage Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Intuit, National Vietnam Museum and the Smithsonian Anancostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture.

Both his art environment and work have received local, state, and national acclaim. Dr. Smith’s art has been exhibited at galleries and museums across the country. He continues to create from his home in Hammond, Louisiana where he remains a strong advocate for the arts and seeks to inspire and motivate children to study, to learn, to understand their history, and to create. He is an inspiration.