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Kay Smith recounts the day
she painted Independence Hall!

Artist Laureate of Illinois

Kay Smith is an artist on a mission - to capture America’s history with her paintbrush. From the frigid barracks of Valley Forge to the spectacular relighting of the Statue of Liberty, Kay’s paintings are a visual record of America’s milestones. Her life’s work - The American Legacy Collection - holds two hundred fifty original watercolor paintings and sketches, all done on location, all painted by one artist, Kay Smith, Artist Laureate of Illinois.

My journey began in 1972 in downtown Chicago. I was in a crowded elevator, carrying my portfolio, when a man next to me asked if I was an artist. I answered yes. He said he was looking for an artist to illustrate a series of books for the bicentennial. I smiled and nodded. It wasn’t unusual for men to chat me up in those days. But it turned out he was a publisher and gave me the assignment that changed my life.

My first painting was to be of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Sitting there, out in the open, I was perched on a tiny folding stool, balancing my watercolor paper on my knees. I was having a difficult time. Painting on location was proving to be more demanding then studio work; the light would change, people interrupted me. On the third day and my third try, I was making progress when a bus full of school children unloaded and surrounded me like I was the main attraction! They had come to see where the Declaration of Independence had been signed, but they were much more interested in me.

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania

“What are you doing? What do you use water for? It looks like lemonade! Can I taste it? I see the building but where’s the statue? Are those things trees?” One little boy was particularly curious.

The children were ushered away. Later, they all came out and were lined up to board their bus. The curious boy broke from the line and ran up to me. He looked down at my finished painting. “That looks just like Independence Hall,” he exclaimed. He threw his arms around my neck, nearly knocking me off my stool. “Lady,” he said, “you were the best part of the day!”

To inquire about showing a collection or purchasing a painting/collection please contact us.

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania

These images are a unique resource. They preserve history, encourage art appreciation, and facilitate commercial applications. The organization or individual that acquires the Collection or its core paintings will be a steward of American history.

Kay Smith Artist-Laureate-of-Illinois

The Artist

Kay Smith has lived and painted in Chicago for over 70 years. An esteemed teacher, historian and lecturer, as well as painter, Kay is our Artist Laureate of Illinois, a lifetime appointment. She was also awarded the national George Washington Honor Medal.

Kay’s artwork has enjoyed major exhibits at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum, the Yorktown Victory Center and the Illinois Governor’s Mansion, among dozens of other venues. Most recently, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library commissioned her “Red Tails Escorting the B-17s” watercolor, honoring the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, which now hangs in its oral history room.

To view the entire Collection and discuss possibilities for its display, preservation or purchase please contact Kay Smith by text at 773.709.2690   email: or visit her website at    Printable Version

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