Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1918, Bill Smith first studied under the painter Theodore Keane. At the age of 13, he began to exhibit his work in serious competitions. The following year he was employed as a sketch artist by the Scripps-Howard Newspapers to cover the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and later he worked for the San Francisco Examiner sketching murder trials. The same year, Smith was accepted as the youngest member of the National Academy of Design. At the age of 19, he moved to Manhattan where he quickly found success as a freelance illustrator for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping and McCalls. He also continued his easel work which attracted the notice of collectors and art directors alike.
To learn further about Chinese art, history and language, during World War II, Smith "consented to be recruited" for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was sent to China for the duration of the war. There he traveled clandestinely throughout the country and drew a wide variety of subjects along the way. He also made lasting friendships with the countrys greatest artists. He traveled through Asia and Africa on his return from the war, laying the groundwork for his globe trotting travels the rest of his life. Among other journeys, Smith lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens in 1954; Manila, 1955; Warsaw, 1958. He was one of the first artists sent to Russia under the Cultural Exchange Agreement in 1958.
Introduced to Bucks County by his friends George Nakashima and Pearl Buck (for whom he illustrated five childrens book), Smith moved to Pineville, PA in 1956. He converted a three story barn into his home and maintained his studio there. Over the years, Smith was close friends with a variety of artists, but he shared a special relationship with the poet Carl Sandburg, who often visited the Smith home. Smiths striking portrait of Sandburg is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery and another Smith portrait of the poet was immortalized on a United States Postage stamp. Smith created ten award-winning stamps including a portrait of Sidney Lanier and a four stamp series on the Boston Tea Party.
In 1968, Smith executed a nine panel historical mural for the State of Maryland. The same year he began a five year stint as vice president on the board of directors of Pearl S. Bucks Welcome House. Smith was a leader of a wide range of artist associations including President of the American Watercolor Society and President of the American delegation to the International Association of Art. His work won a variety of awards including the Winslow Homer Memorial Prize, the Postal Commemorative Society Prize and the American Watercolor Societys Gold, Silver, Bronze and Stuart prizes. Smiths work is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, Toledo Museum of Art, and the James Michener Art Museum.