What Became of Dr. Smith


Raised in Mississippi and now based in Nashville, the artist Noah Saterstrom earned a B.F.A. from the University of Mississippi and then an M.F.A. from Scotland’s Glasgow School of Art.

In 2017, he began a long search in state, local, and private archives for information about his great-grandfather, the traveling optometrist D.L. Smith. Eventually, he learned that Dr. Smith spent his last four decades at the Mississippi State Insane Hospital in Jackson (“The Old Asylum”) and later in nearby Whitfield.

Noah Saterstrom (b. 1974), "What Became of Dr. Smith" (detail), 2023, oil on canvas, 122 x 6 feet (overall), collection of the artist
Noah Saterstrom (b. 1974), “What Became of Dr. Smith” (detail), 2023, oil on canvas, 122 x 6 feet (overall), collection of the artist

This ancestor had been all but erased from the family’s history, so Saterstrom created a monumental painting — composed of 183 canvases spanning 122 feet — that tries to tell the man’s story.

This vast work is the centerpiece of the Mississippi Museum of Art’s exhibition “What Became of Dr. Smith,” which also presents artifacts from Smith’s life, including letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

The show highlights the Asylum Hill Project, which is finding ways to memorialize the approximately 7,000 individuals whose remains were discovered on that site more than a decade ago.

“What Became of Dr. Smith”
Mississippi Museum of Art
Jackson, Mississippi
through September 22, 2024

The accompanying catalogue, edited by curator Megan Hines, includes an interview with Saterstrom conducted by the novelist Ann Patchett, whose 2019 book The Dutch House has a Saterstrom painting on its cover, and also an essay by British painter Timothy Hyman situating “What Became of Dr. Smith” within the history of narrative painting.

Saterstrom has already sold more than 1,500 paintings related to Dr. Smith through the charitable Instagram platform Artist Support Pledge.

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