A seventh-generation Texan has combined his love of the Lone Star state and years of painstaking research to create one-of-a-kind maps that uniquely blend art, history and geography.
Christopher A. Smith is a professional graphic designer who has produced a series of hand-drawn pen and ink maps that chronicle the major battles from 300 years of Texas history.
“I first became interested in Texas history in my seventh grade Texas History class at Grisham Middle School in Austin,” explains Christopher. “I was a C+ student but I actually got a 100 for one semester in that class, a first and only time for me.”
Christopher’s largest map project, “Republic of Texas,” includes depictions of all the battles fought from 1775 to 1880. But unlike other Texas historical maps, “Republic of Texas” includes details about weaponry and Navy ships, the locations of 46 frontier forts, illustrations of the six flags flown over Texas, and portraits of major figures such as Sam Houston and William Travis.
“What I found to be the most interesting was how many battles there actually were within the Texas boundaries,” says Christopher. “Many of the 87 battle sites on the map are obscure, but they range in size from small skirmishes between Texas Rangers and Kiowa Indians, to huge battles such as the Battle of Medina where 1,400 Republican soldiers were killed.”
Christopher says in his first attempt to illustrate these he just used pen and ink on watercolor paper. “Then I actually started again with the illustration using acrylic paints for the background, but I didn’t like the way it looked. I knew I had something; I just needed to refine my technique.”
The project took several years to complete and was ultimately created by using pencil on an acrylic background and then inking in thousands of dots for shading as part of a technique known as “stippling.” The result is artwork with a three-dimensional, textured appearance that has been reproduced on archival paper and custom-framed.
Another print in the series is “Flags of Texas,” which shows the six flags that have flown over Texas, eight Texas battle flags, the Texas Navy flag and the first Republic of Texas flag. It also includes dates and details of where and when the flags were used. Although most Texans will recognize the six flags that have flown over Texas, many of the other flags are not as well known. They include visually graphic battle flags such as the Dimmitt’s Goliad flag, which shows a well-muscled arm wielding a sword, and the Gonzales flag, which features a cannon and the phrase “Come and take it.”
Christopher’s favorite print is “The Alamo.” His interpretation of the event includes Santa Anna’s campaign routes, military strategies, and an architectural rendering of the interior of the Alamo.
According to Christopher, this fresh approach in presenting the drama of Texas history initially began as a very different concept. “I started the idea in 1999 as a board game, like a ‘Texas Risk,’ but I changed my mind after spending two or three years developing it,” he says. “I am proud of the fact that I never quit during the process of creating and researching it. All of this happened while working full-time elsewhere and raising a newborn at the time.”
When asked about future works Christopher says, “I plan on creating a Civil War series of maps next. This will take another year or two. I’m currently creating my fourth piece in this series: a Texas Revolutionar map covering 1835 through 1836.”
Even though Christopher clearly demonstrates his passion for Texas history, people often want to know where he is from. “Sometimes I say ‘New York’ and they don’t know whether to laugh or not until I tell them I really am from Texas!”