Sunlight trickled through the massive oak boughs in Camden, New Jersey, as artist Dressler Smith sat before an easel, staring at a blank piece of paper. She focused on one of the trees and lifted her hand to draw. It was the veteran artist’s first attempt in two years at creating new work. The death of her mother—her closest confidante and source of encouragement—had nearly crushed Smith. And now in the park, a simple black line drawing of an oak tree shading the bright green grass was all she could muster.
It hadn’t always been this way. Drawing since the age of 5, Smith credits her parents with instilling in her a deep love of art. Each Sunday while her mother played piano at church, the young girl would sit alongside and doodle. As she grew into adulthood, Smith continued to receive constant encouragement from her beloved mom. The two used to sit and listen to cassettes of Dr. Stanley, and if Smith dealt with anxiety or loneliness, her mom would hand her a taped sermon that addressed the issue.
A year after the loss of her mother, a second tragedy struck Smith. One day she left home without extinguishing a candle, and when she returned, the house was engulfed in flames. She lost virtually everything—most of her artwork and all of her mom’s possessions, including the cassette collection. For the first time since she was a little girl, Smith quit painting and drawing. In grief, she wondered what had been the point of creating in the first place.
Over time, with the encouragement of friends and former students, Smith decided to take up art again. She presented her work to one woman in hopes of securing a show at a local hospital. The response, however, was, “Oh, they’re not going to let you hang your paintings here.” When Smith asked why not, the woman replied, “Because these are too spiritual.”
Smith hadn’t viewed her artwork through that lens—as something reflecting her relationship with God. In that moment she understood her pieces were more than just beautiful paintings; they were creations pointing back to the Creator Himself.
That was 18 years ago. Ever since then, Smith has continued to make art as an act of devotion to Christ. And she now understands her artistic purpose—to be a conduit of His beauty and majesty.
Recently, she began making designs for local churches’ stained-glass windows. In one, Jesus blesses the little children; in another, Simon of Cyrene helps Christ bear the cross. Her most personal one, which encircles the sanctuary of her home church, is titled “Sunday Morning.” Inspired by African-American quilt-making and arms waving in worship, it’s like a rainbow signaling promise: Sunlight pours through oranges, yellows, purples, reds, and blues—colors Smith offers back to the Lord in gratitude.