Georgine Shillard-Smith

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Portrait of Georgine Shillard-Smith,
by Hugh Henry Breckenridge.

Georgine Northrup Wetherill Smith, later known as Georgine Shillard-Smith, was an American artist and arts patron, and a member of the Theosophical Society in America. She was responsible for commissioning the murals that were painted for the L. W. Rogers Building on the Society's headquarters campus. She also donated other art works and a large parcel of land.

Personal life

Georgine Northrup Wetherill was born on March 2, 1873 in Philadelphia, the daughter of Samuel Price Wetherill, Sr. (1836-1926) and Christine Northrup (1852-1930).[1] On April 18, 1893 she married Charles Shillard Smith (September 10, 1864 - November 25, 1946) at a Unitarian Church. He was a wool merchant and a director of the United Security Life Insurance and Trust Co. of Pennsylvania, and later went into banking and stock trading.[2] Their daughter Christine Wetherill Shillard-Smith was born in 1910 to Philadelphian Mary Edith Cox, and was adopted by the Shillard-Smiths.[3]

Social life

The family was affluent and traveled the world.[4] They alternated between a city home in Philadelphia and a country home in New Jersey, with trips to Maine, Florida, and southern California. Foreign travel included India, Egypt, North Africa, Italy, and Spain.[5] In 1906 Charles purchased a 20-horsepower Franklin automobile.[6]

Active in mainline Philadelphia society, their names appeared in periodicals such as Town and Country, the New York Times, and in society columns of numerous newspapers across the nation.[7]

Georgine was a member of National Society of Magna Charta Dames and Barons, the Plays and Players Club, the New Century Club, Pennsylvania League for Birth Control, and other civic, cultural, and recreational groups.

Family members

Georgine Shillard-Smith had a younger sister, Sara Northrup Wetherill (October 11, 1874 - December 2, 1938) who was also a Theosophist. Sara and her husband Robert Restalrig Logan had a large estate, "Sarobia," in Eddington, Pennsylvania, and were very active in the Theosophical Order of Service. Sarobia was located a short distance from the Shillard-Smiths' country home "Beech Banks" in Edgewater Park, New Jersey, across the Delaware River.

Another Theosophist sister, Christine Northrup Wetherill (April 12, 1878 - November 21, 1922), was also prominent in society as Mrs. Yorke Stevenson.[8] She and Georgine often collaborated in supporting the dramatic arts in Philadelphia. Mrs. Stevenson sponsored the production in old Krotona of The Light of Asia as a play.[9]

The Wetherill sisters had a brother, Col. Samuel Price Wetherill, Jr. (May 13, 1880 - February 19, 1967), an engineer, who became a Theosophical Society member in 1924 with the sponsorship of Sara Logan, and continued in membership until 1934.[10] One more sister, Isabel Wetherill Henderson (December 6, 1881 - November 22,1952), was not involved with Theosophy.

Daughter Christine Wetherill Shillard-Smith (December 12, 1910 - January 25, 1986) made her debut in society in 1929.[11] She became a world-famous fashion designer under the name Tina Leser, living in Hawaii with her husband Curtin Leser.[12] Liz Claiborne, whom she hired as a designer, regarded her as fun, unconventional, and imaginative.[13] Tina later married clothing manufacturer James Howley of Long Island, New York, in 1948. She died on January 25, 1986.[14]

Later years

Georgine and Charles lived in Florida in their later years. He passed away on November 25, 1946 in New Jersey. She died on October 12, 1955 in Pinellas, Florida, but was buried in Philadelphia with her husband.

Involvement in the arts

Georgine studied art with Cecilia Beaux, who specialized in portraits. She was a pupil of James McNeill Whistler late in his life, and took classes with Hugh Henry Breckenridge at the Darby School of Art in Port Washington.[15] Breckenridge painted a portrait of her around 1909.[16] She signed her paintings as Georgine Shillard. For many years she maintained her own art studio, and she frequently sketched during her travels.[17]

She was associated with the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art for decades, as a donor, on the Instruction Committee, and on the Board of Trustees.[18] A prize in illustration was established in her honor.[19] In addition, she was active for decades in the Plastic Club, a group of women artists, and served as president during the years 1922-1926 and 1932-1936.[20] She was a board member of the School of Design for Women[21] and active in the Seven Allied Arts Organizations of Philadelphia.[22] Mrs. Shillard-Smith and her sisters donated the Wetherill family mansion at Rittenhouse Square to establish the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1915 as one of the first multidisciplinary art spaces in the country.

Mrs. Shillard-Smith assembled a large art collection that included works by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Whistler, and Picasso.[23]

In 1944, Mrs. Georgine Shillard-Smith donated seven acres of land to create the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center.[24] "On Sunday, April 2, 1950, The Tampa Tribune announced the establishment of the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center in Belleair. The center began as a group of buildings consisting of modern studios, dormitories, galleries and lecture halls that were constructed on the property of its founder, Mrs. Shillard Smith."[25] There is a Shillard-Smith Gallery in Belleair, Florida.

In 1952 or 1953, Mrs. Shillard-Smith published a book of poetry illustrated with her own full-page color illustrations.[26]

Murals at Theosophical Society headquarters

Theosophical Society activities

Mrs. Shillard-Smith became a member of the Theosophical Society in America on July 2, 1914.[27] She must have had an influence in leading her siblings Christine, Sarah, and Samuel into joining the Theosophical Movement, in 1917, 1918, and 1924, respectively, and brother-in-law Robert R. Logan, who joined in 1919.[28]

Georgine regularly operated a Theosophical reading room located in a studio at the old Art Alliance Building (before it moved to Rittenhouse Square).[29] Charles was also involved; in 1920 the family were living in the Krotona colony in Hollywood, California.[30] After leaving California, the family lived in Edgewater Park, Burlington, New Jersey for some years, but visited the Society headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois and international headquarters in Adyar, Chennai, India. She established a book shop and lending library in Atlantic City, New Jersey which resulted in the formation of a lodge, of which she was the first president: "From ten members on Nov. 11, 1927, the Lodge has grown to thirty-six on Nov. 11, 1928, seven having joined after Mr. Rogers' recent lecture."[31][32]

At the 1930 national convention, she proposed a project to have Philadelphia artist Richard Blossom Farley paint murals on the walls of the lobby in the new L. W. Rogers Building, which had been completed in 1927. She headed fundraising activities for the mural installation. Later she donated a marble pedestal to hold a bronze bust of Annie Besant, and nine acres of land adjoining the headquarters estate. The land was intended to provide space for a magnificent arts center with an art gallery. However, sufficient funds were never available to put up the proposed building.[33] In the 1950s, TSA President James S. Perkins used the land to create a pond. When the Shillard-Smiths moved to Clearwater, Florida in 1940s, Georgine belonged to the Hermes Lodge.


  1. U. S. Passport application, October 5, 1893.
  2. Trust Companies of the United States, 1917 edition. Page 423. Available from Google Books.
  3. April Calahan, "Tina Leser: Global Vision" in The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th-century Women Designers. E-book edited by Nancy Diehl. London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. See Chapter 3. Available at Google Books.
  4. "Label Resource: Leser, Tina". Vintage Fashion Guild website.
  5. Mary Morris, "Hawaiian Background" Detroit News (February 14, 1945), 11.
  6. "Automobile New and Notes" Philadelphia Inquirer (November 12, 1905), 13.
  7. Dozens of articles or mentions appear in Philadelphia Inquirer, Momento [Philadelphia], Evening Public Ledger [Philadelphia], Trenton Evening Times, Harrisburg Patriot, Evansville Press, The Sunday Star [Washington, D.C.], Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Daily Herald [Biloxi], San Diego Evening Tribune, San Diego Union, Bradenton Herald, Charlotte Observer, and Key West Citizen.
  8. Town & Country 66.11 (May 27, 1922), 23.
  9. Anonymous, "A Festival Drama" The Messenger 5.12 (May, 1918), 789-790.
  10. Membership Ledger Cards Roll 8, Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  11. "The Debutante Game in Philadelphia" Evansville Press (February 24, 1929), 5.
  12. "Label Resource: Leser, Tina". Vintage Fashion Guild website.
  13. "Claiborne" Oregonian (June 13, 1986), 174.
  14. "Christine Wetherill Shillard-Smith Or Tina Leser Howley" Philadelphia Inquirer (January 25, 1986).
  15. "Summer School Art Season Now Thoroughly Underway" Philadelphia Inquirer (July, 19, 1903), 7.
  16. "Contemporary Art Show Will Be Shown in South" Charlotte Observer 76 (April 26, 1944), 6.
  17. U. S. Census, 1910.
  18. Bulletin of the Philadelphia Museum January 1911.
  19. "Notable Alumni", The University of the Arts web page.
  20. Plastic Club Records, 1888-2007. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Collection 3106. Records in Appendix A at this website
  21. "Designers Needed in South America [Philadelphia] Evening Public Ledger 6 (January 30, 1920), 4.
  22. "Allied Arts Organizations Will Stage 'Masque of 1916'" Philadelphia Inquirer (January 30, 1916), 8.
  23. "Contemporary Art Show Will Be Shown in South" Charlotte Observer 76 (April 26, 1944), 6.
  24. "A Brief history of Belleair", available at Belleair, Florida web page
  25. Mark Ormond. "Modern Art in Florida, 1948–1970". Available at this website.
  26. "Poems Published." 1952 or 1953. Newspaper clipping found in St. Petersburg Lodge Records, Records Series 20.02.15, Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  27. Membership records. Blue series, microfilm reel #6. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  28. Membership Ledger Cards, Rolls 5, 7, 8. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  29. Advertised weekly in the Philadelphia newspaper Momento.
  30. U. S. Census, 1920.
  31. "What Lodges Are Doing" The Theosophical Messenger 16.7 (December 1928), 150.
  32. See also lodge charter record of November 11, 1927 in Member Services Department, Theosophical Society in America.
  33. S.A.C. [Sidney A. Cook], "The Development of Olcott: A Munificent Gift" The American Theosophist 23.9 (September, 1935), 202, 212.