Profile: U-M Professor/Artist Sherri Smith Connects Math And Art

by Donna Iadipaolo

While Sherri Smith retired a year ago as a University of Michigan Professor in the School of Art and Design, she hasn’t retired from her other passion of creating amazing art. Smith, who began at U-M in 1974 and was a professor for 44 years, also is noted for her abstract, mathematical and scientific-related art and original work within the fiber arts.

“I did the math stuff at the same time as I did pieces based on music to the extent that I could and some physics stuff, and before that I had always worked completely abstractly,” said Smith, who added that most of her mathematical art started in 1995 and continued to about 2002.

The names of some of the pieces that specifically relate math to art are: “Chords of the Nonagon,” “Digital Expansion of Pi,” “Hypercube,” “Latin Square,” “Mayan Sacred Calendar 1,” “Mayan Sacred Calendar II,” “Multiplication,” “Pascal’s Triangle,” “Sand Drawing,” and “Several Kinds of Symmetry.”

Smith’s piece “Chords of Nonagon” has an interesting story behind it.

“A nonagon is a nine-sided figure, like an octagon, but nine. And the chords are the lines that you can draw from one corner to the other,” said Smith. “So I found somewhere a list of how long all those were, and there’s a lot, more than you think there are….I don’t now remember exactly what I did to come up, they were probably in inches anyway. That piece is triangles on a red ground and I think the triangle in a row represented an integer like.”  

Smith is a textile artist who has been exhibiting for over four decades. Her art is represented in countless public collections around the world, including the The Art Institute of Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design is set to release a book available to the public about Smith titled: “Sherri Smith Works.”

“Sherri Smith has been one of the most respected artists, innovators, and teachers in the textile field,” stated fellow textile artist Cynthia Schira in the book.  

“Yeah, I’m a fiber artist…” said Smith. “Well, my training was actually to be a textile designer and I did that for a while, and then when I decided to leave New York, I started teaching and doing. By then I already started doing artwork using various fibers methods. It’s just what I do.”

Smith earned an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1967, and a Bachelor’s of Art from Stanford University in 1965.

From Writer Donna Marie Iadipaolo:

I have been a State of Michigan certified teacher since 1990 and have investigated and taught math’s relations to other subjects before and since that time. My Master of Science in Mathematics Teaching and Learning is from Drexel University where I earned a 3.9 G.P.A. I also earned a Master of Arts from Eastern Michigan University, with a 3.7 G.P.A. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I studied engineering, mathematics, English/language arts, and all the social sciences. Over recent years, I have been more intensely developing a Math and Art course and have recently created a few videos on this subject. One video is an overview of Math and Art and the other is a Math Dance that I created. I was fortunate to meet Sherri Smith when investigating individuals at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor who have related mathematics to art. Coincidentally, Sherri not only has an interest in math and art, like myself, but we also live in the same neighborhood. What is the probability or odds of that?

If you have created works that relate mathematics to art, please contact me at