Long Exposure

Lewis Smith Long Exposure

Photo by Pete Smith

In the stairwell just outside the President’s Office is a stained glass window, salvaged from the Old Main Building that once stood on that spot. On it, two words appear side by side on a shield: “Art” and “Science.”

These are the two realms of knowledge bridged by Lewis Smith — Chair of Radiation Oncology at UT Health Northeast in Tyler and a connoisseur and collector of art. And art and science are the realms he wants to help The University of Texas at Austin bridge as well.

To that end, Smith is making a historic gift to UT Austin that likely will total $8 million when fully realized.

He has bequeathed a large portion of his art and book collection to the Harry Ransom Center, UT’s internationally renowned humanities research library and museum. This includes a large number of valuable photographs, including pieces by Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz and Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower series. Some of the portraits are as important for their subjects as for their creators: portraits of Frida Kahlo and Albert Einstein, for example, would complement collections held by the center. There are paintings and rare books as well, including an early edition of The Great Gatsby. He estimates that these cultural treasures have a current value of more than $1 million, and he intends to keep collecting for the rest of his life. Those future works will eventually find their way to the Ransom Center if they are a good fit.

The Harry Ransom Center’s collections provide insight into the creative process of writers and artists. Visitors engage with these collections through research and study, exhibitions, publications, and a variety of program offerings including readings, talks, symposia, and film screenings.

Smith also will bequeath the mineral rights for land he inherited recently when his mother passed away. These oil and gas wells are never sold but rather managed by the UT System’s Land Office, which has been in existence for almost 100 years. Because their revenue will go to the Harry Ransom Center, it is impossible to assign a total value to his gift, as this portion in particular could grow significantly in value.

Smith is making a
historic gift to UT
Austin that likely will
total $8 million when
fully realized.

Though his father was a UT Austin alumnus, Lewis, a proud eighth-generation Texan, attended Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia medical school. His connection to UT came with his friendship with former longtime director of the Ransom Center Tom Staley, who recruited Smith to serve on the center’s Advisory Council some 10 years ago and whom he jokingly calls “his most expensive friend.” During this time, Smith attended meetings in Austin and even traveled with the Advisory Council to Cuba.

“I would like for the collection to go someplace where it would be wanted and be used. I don’t have enough to form my own museum. I’d much rather let someone have it, display it properly, use it properly, and let it go out for exhibit to other places. UT Austin does great work. I’d like to see that work be contributed to and continued.”