February 20, 2024

Beauty Arts

The Arts Authority

Renowned Artist Kay Smith Turns 100 Monday. She’s Spent The Past Century Depicting US History In Watercolors

Renowned Artist Kay Smith Turns 100 Monday. She’s Spent The Past Century Depicting US History In Watercolors

LINCOLN PARK — Watercolors have brought Kay Smith from the hills of Mount Rushmore to the stall of the esteemed racehorse Secretariat, as she’s expended her lifetime depicting U.S. historical past with her paintings. 

But, one particular of the 1st situations Smith wielded the ability of her paintbrush was through her senior year of high faculty. In the a single-home schoolhouse she’d grown up in, she sketched a portrait of a boy who’d been picking on her since they have been youngsters. 

“I could’ve absent right to the instructor, but I didn’t,” Smith stated. “Instead, I last but not least drew him and stated, ‘Be watchful or I’ll place your funny-searching facial area on this paper once again.’ And it shut him proper up.”

Smith, of Lincoln Park, invested the following decades carving out a life for herself through portray, with minimal regard for the adult men who dared to say something from her. 

Now, Illinois’ artist laureate is celebrating her 100th birthday Monday — and it will be Kay Smith Day in Chicago. 

“I’ve performed a good deal of challenging work, but I’ve decided that you have to do a good deal of do the job in anything at all you do,” Smith said. “If you are producing a letter, create a good a single. If you’re creating a excellent e book, nicely, I do not know how to assist you there.” 

Credit score: Kayleigh Padar///Block Club Chicago
Illinois’ Artist Laureate Kay Smith paints a even now everyday living at her residence studio in Lincoln Park.

Smith’s American Legacy Selection attributes much more than 250 authentic watercolor paintings. Most of her is effective were finished on-web site, and she painted a lot of historical occasions as they were occurring. 

The prolific watercolor artist perched atop a newspaper box to sketch the return of American hostages from Iran and sat shivering in Valley Forge painting soldiers’ barracks. 

Smith was the very first historic artist to be awarded the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. She has exhibited in numerous venues, which includes the Government Mansion in Springfield, the Pritzker Army Museum and Library in Chicago and Yorktown Victory Middle in Virginia.

Smith life in a Victorian rowhouse in Lincoln Park that doubles as a gallery and studio. She still paints practically each individual working day. 

For the greater part of Smith’s vocation, she was commissioned to operate on many pieces. Anyone would pay Smith to paint a distinct historic scene, so she acquired to equilibrium her artistic liberty with their expectations. 

Credit history: Delivered//The Pritzker Army Museum and Library
Kay Smith’s “Red Tails Escorting the B17s” (2013) hangs in The Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Springfield.

Smith’s last fee was a painting of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black pilots who fought in Environment War II, with the planes blazing by the air. She created the layered watercolor portray from several reference shots and three interviews she done with the airmen. It hangs in the Pritzker Armed forces Museum and Library in Springfield.  

“I had under no circumstances painted an plane or nearly anything that held alone up in the air like that,” Smith stated. “It was quite tricky for me, but I like it now. It’s clean. That frame better get out of the way just before the planes appear speeding.” 

On the other hand, capturing horses is no issues for Smith. Born on a farm in southern Illinois, Smith grew up taking treatment of horses and could trip a single on her individual by the time she was 4 many years old. 

Credit rating: Supplied//Kay Smith
Kay Smith’s watercolor portrait of Secretariat.

In the ’80s, Smith was granted unprecedented accessibility to some of the most famous American racehorses to paint their portraits. She explained her American Racehorse Selection was a single of the “best parts” of her profession.

Sat atop a bale of hay, Smith expended days portray a portrait of Secretariat — one of the most popular racehorses of all time — in his stall. 

“I needed to know every horse — not just its establish or coloring, but its temperament,” Kay wrote on her website. “Some artists paint from photos, but that would hardly ever give you the complete animal. The digicam can distort colour and proportions.” 

Secretariat had never ever sat for a portrait before, so it took time for him to warm up to Smith. He could not wrap his head close to why her paintbrush did not have flash like the cameras he was utilized to, she said. 

Just about every day, Secretariat would pluck Smith’s straw hat off her head and fall it on the ground in front of her. It turned a match in between them — until he decided to chew it to shreds, Smith claimed. 

“I thought, ‘This is fantastic, being in a position to be proper listed here with him to enjoy what he’s heading to do,’” Smith mentioned. “But just after that, he threw me out. He was around it. He did not like my hat.” 

Luckily for us, Smith had more than enough sketches to finish the horse’s portrait in her studio at dwelling. 

Credit rating: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago
Kay Smith shows section of her American Racehorse Selection in her dwelling.

Usually, when Smith approached a web page to paint, she would sketch the scene and consider photos so she could excellent the piece back again at her studio. 

Smith was frequently one particular of the only women all-around, specially though she was functioning the racehorse paintings, Smith stated. 

“I had to master to be unpleasant to some of these guys. They required to make me search silly in entrance of other folks,” Smith reported. “You have to be watchful when you are the only female with a great deal of adult men. … They’d request me if I’d commit time with them, and I’d say, ‘Not unless you understand how to communicate.’ Usually, I’d just say one thing speedy like that, and I’d peaceful them down.” 

Smith credited her husband of 35 many years for supporting her autonomy and encouraging her art.

“He usually aided me with almost everything,” Smith stated. “I’m astonished, searching back again, that I was in a position to carve out so substantially freedom for myself. I appreciated paying time on your own simply because I didn’t have to report to any one.”

Credit rating: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago
Kay Smith nonetheless paints most days.

In addition to painting on fee, Smith taught at the Aged Town Triangle Heart, 1763 N. North Park Ave., for extra than 20 yrs. 

“I really liked that span of my lifestyle, right below in city,” Smith explained. “I tried using to make it very appealing for my learners because I appreciate being pretty fascinating myself. We had a jolly time. Quite a few of my pupils stayed with me for lots of years in advance of I left. I would say to them, ‘You men and women and I have picked each individual other, but I have the upper hand, so here’s what we’re heading to do.’” 

Smith would start off a portray and check with her college students to complete it in their personal ways to help them get previous the challenging experience of staring down a blank canvas, she explained. She liked using her pupils to art galleries and museums in the course of the town, then talking about what they noticed alongside one another.  

“We painted and painted and painted, and above time, they didn’t intellect that I would not allow for any whispering because they became fascinated in what they have been doing,” Smith reported. “I was educating myself even though I taught them mainly because I felt that I experienced to have myself entirely included with what I was likely to say. Those were pleased many years.” 

Credit history: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago
Cards from Kay Smith’s liked kinds and previous students line her desk.

Tucked absent in her rowhouse gallery amongst cards from former learners and signed shots with politicians, Smith now spends her times inquiring men and women to fetch her fresh new drinking water so she can paint. 

“You can go on and on with a painting, travel by yourself mad right until it eventually arrives collectively,” Smith claimed. “But basically, the best element about painting is when you make a great commence simply because at times it isn’t a superior begin and it takes you endlessly to erase it.

“I like starting up the ideal mainly because you get to assemble all your resources and tell everyone to go away and depart you alone.” 

To check out Smith’s paintings, go to her website.

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