A ‘Dark, vivid type’ – Dorothy Carleton Smyth

Picture with staff, including Dorothy Carleton Smyth (GSAA/P/15)

Artist, designer, and teacher Dorothy Carleton Smyth was born in Glasgow in 1880. She began her studies at Manchester School of Art studying under Walter Crane, later continuing her training at Glasgow School of Art under Fra Newbury. During her time at GSA, Dorothy took a variety of classes including Drawing, Painting, and Stained Glass.


Described as a ‘dark, vivid type’ at GSA, her main interest was designing for the theatre which she later put into practice designing for various theatres in London, Paris and Stockholm.  A true ‘living force contained within a human body’, Smyth worked in all areas of design throughout her life and succeeded in becoming the first woman to be appointed Director of Glasgow School of Art in 1933. Tragically, Smyth died suddenly before she could take up the post.

Dorothy Carleton Smyth with GSA staff member Alec Milne in fancy dress (GSAA/P/1136).

Smyth’s work has been greatly researched, and has been included in many exhibitions including Glasgow Style (1984), The Glasgow Girls (1990) and most recently the Scottish Women’s Artists Exhibition curated by Alice Strang in 2015. The 2015 exhibition did discuss other women who designed war memorials including Gertrude Alice Meredith Williams, Phyllis Bone and Hazel Armour who worked with Robert Lorimer to design and produce pieces for the Scottish War Memorial in Edinburgh. As part of my PhD I will be delving into this under-researched area regarding female designers, specifically focusing on commemorative war design within Scotland.

Wellpark War Memorial, Greenock designed by Alexander Proudfoot & decorative details by Dorothy Carleton Smyth. 

Smyth’s contribution to war memorials, however, has somewhat been removed in both contemporary sources and recent research. Many contemporary newspaper articles about the memorial’s unveiling do not mention Smyth in any capacity and tend to place all the focus on the sculptor and Smyth’s friend, Alexander Proudfoot.

I’ve managed to find two newspaper articles which indicate that Smyth did play a design role in the Memorial. A section within the paper dedicates a whole page to the memorial describing in vivid detail to the reader the size of the crowd, the moment the monument was unveiled and detailed descriptions of the decorative elements and associated iconography.  Underneath a drawing of the Celtic Cross it reads:

‘The picture of the Celtic Cross and ancient Scottish two-handed sword, is from a drawing by Miss Dorothy Carleton Smyth, of the Glasgow School of Art, who designed the ornamental details of the stone for the monument. The drawing appears in the Memorial Book. Miss Smyth has studied ancient Celtic forms of art, and has produced here a masterpiece.’

This is just a brief overview of the creative output of one designer. Smyth was a true whirlwind of creativity which we should celebrate within Glasgow’s design history narrative and this is why we have chosen to include her within our Doors Open Day talk. If you would like to book a ticket for HERstory: Influential Women of Glasgow on the 15th September 2017 please click here.


Further reading:

Dorothy Carleton Smyth – “a living force contained in a human body”

Trick or treat!

Smyth, Dorothy Carleton (1880-1933)




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