Emily Guthrie Smith, painter and teacher, was born in Fort Worth on July 8, 1909, the daughter of William Craton and Lillian (Fakes) Guthrie. At five she sketched a house in correct perspective. She began private art lessons at age eleven and first exhibited her work while studying at Texas State College for Women (later Texas Woman's University) in Denton, which she attended from 1927 to 1929. She became interested in portraiture while attending Oklahoma University in Norman, where she earned a B.A. in 1931. In the summer of 1931 she studied under Robert Brackman at the Art Students League in New York City. She studied with Mitchell Jamieson and Frederic Taubes at a later date. On April 15, 1932, Emily Guthrie married Tolbert C. Smith of Fort Worth; they had a daughter and a son. Emily Smith continued to pursue her painting career in Fort Worth, painting portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. She entered her paintings in regional competitive exhibitions and won awards in the West Texas Annual (1953, 1964), in the Tarrant County Annual (1960, 1965–66), and in exhibitions sponsored by the Fort Worth Art Association (1941–44, 1949, 1951, 1955, 1957) and the Texas Fine Arts Association (1944–45, 1951). She also exhibited her work at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1946), the Oakland Art Gallery (1945), the American Water Color Society (1946), and the Caller-Times Exhibition in Corpus Christi (1945); she participated in the Texas General exhibitions and in annual exhibitions sponsored by the Southern States Art League. From 1955 to 1970 Smith was an art instructor at the Fort Worth Art Museum (now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth); she also taught at the Taos Institute of Creative Orientation during the summers of 1962 and 1963 and conducted her own summer workshops in Ruidoso or Las Vegas, New Mexico, from 1964 to 1968. In 1969 she taught special courses in portrait painting at Texas Christian University.
She experimented with many media, including watercolors, oils, acrylics, sculpture, and mosaic, but she preferred pastels because they allowed her to work quickly. She painted in a realistic style tempered by such impressionistic techniques as the use of alternating strokes of color to give a rippling effect. Her best works are enlivened by experimental compositions and lighting effects: in Blue Springs, for example, Smith represented a luminous sky reflected in a pool surface strewn with colorful autumn leaves, and in Rim Road she captured the play of light produced by a mountain sunrise behind large clouds. She produced more than 2,000 portraits by the time of her death, in addition to hundreds of landscapes and still lifes. She painted many portraits of children, community leaders, and entertainers; some of her best-known portrait subjects were actress Mary Martin and former House majority leader Jim Wright. Six of her pastel landscapes were included in The Texas Hill Country: Interpretations by Thirteen Artists (1981). Smith's reputation continued to grow in her later years. She was honored by solo exhibitions sponsored by galleries and art associations throughout Texas. In 1966 the Fort Worth Art Center mounted a retrospective of her work, and in 1970 the Wichita Museum of Fine Arts sponsored her second retrospective exhibition. Smith joined the Pastel Society of America in 1975 and won awards at the society's sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth annual exhibitions. She was elected into the Pastel Society Hall of Fame in 1984. Emily Smith continued to work until shortly before her death on October 10, 1986, when she was preparing for a third retrospective of her work, which opened at the Longview Museum and Art Center on September 21 and traveled to Texas Christian University. After her death, the Emily Guthrie Smith Memorial Art Scholarship was established at TCU.
Smith was a member of the Fort Worth Art Association, the Dallas Art Association, the Taos Art Association, the Texas Fine Arts Association, the Southern States Art League, the Pastel Society of America, and the National Society of Arts and Literature. Her work is represented in the collections of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock; the Diamond M Museum, Snyder; the Longview Museum and Arts Center; the Old Jail Art Center, Albany; the University of Texas at Arlington; Texas Wesleyan College and Texas Christian University, both in Fort Worth; and numerous private collections. Her papers are in the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.