Kay Smith recounts the day
she painted Valley Forge!
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 Tribute to Company Street, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
In December of 1777, 12,000 Continental Army soldiers marched into Valley Forge, where they would spend a disastrous winter. Thousands died of disease and malnutrition. “They had neither coats, hats, shirts nor shoes; their feet and legs froze till they became almost black…”*
I was assigned to paint Company Street, the row of crude huts that sheltered the men who followed General George Washington. It was a difficult composition. I could see no main focal point. The buildings were indistinguishable from one another and surrounded by a flat, bare landscape. I had chosen to come at this bleak time of year to get a sense of the hardships these people faced, but now I was having second thoughts.
Just then the sun broke through the grey clouds, streaking the roofs and ground with light. I decided to use that light to energize the scene. Using thin washes of color, I made the sky transparent to contrast with the heavy ground. For momentum, I relied on a zigzag composition moving from left to right to left. The bare trees reach down the row of huts toward the rosy cloud, which throws its light to the snow- the white diagonal streaks in the foreground.
Despite the bleakness of the scene, the color and movement give a vital and energetic feel that makes this one of my most successful paintings. It is my tribute to the men who suffered and died there.
(Kay is the first visual artist to be awarded the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge “for outstanding accomplishment in helping to achieve a better understanding of the American way of life.”)
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.
*General Marquis de Lafayette
To inquire about showing a collection or purchasing a painting/collection please contact us.
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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at kaysmithartist.com Printable Version