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Throughout his life Smith was an inveterate collector. In addition to records, artifacts he collected included string figures ,  paper airplanes , Seminole textiles , and Ukrainian Easter eggs.
Harry Smith was born in Portland, Oregon, and spent his earliest years in Washington state in the area between Seattle and Bellingham. As child he lived for a time with his family in Anacortes, Washington , a town on Fidalgo Island , where the Swinomish Indian reservation is located.  He attended high school in nearby Bellingham.
Smith was also unique in associating folk music with the occult: the design he chose to be printed on the box covers, for example, was taken from an engraving by Theodore de Bry of a great hand tuning the Celestial Monochord (the one-stringed instrument symbolizing the music of the spheres), that had illustrated a sixteenth-century treatise on music by the Elizabethan magus Robert Fludd.