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Kay Smith Blog

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Mount Vernon Alexandria Virginia

On the Eve of My 98th Birthday...

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia PennsylvaniaOn the eve of my 98th birthday, I’ve been asked what sage advice could I share? Such a broad question! Hunting for a starting place, I began flipping through my old sketchbooks to remember how I got here.

One book had “Paris 1954” scrawled across the cover. Inside were the sketches of my first trip to the City of Lights. I was 29, traveling with Jane and Connie, my art school mates.

We sailed on an ocean liner, at the time, much more economical than flying. The trip took six days – lots of time to plan our itinerary. This was to be a painting excursion: the Left Bank, Montmartre, Tuileries, Luxembourg Gardens.

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Being inexperienced travelers, we arrived in Paris without a place to stay. We had befriended a young American onboard ship. We called him Siggy Booboo for some reason I can’t possibly remember.

He knew of the perfect hotel, near Montmartre, very cheap. He ferried us there on his motorcycle. It was dark when we arrived. Three flights up, we stuffed ourselves into a small room with two beds. Jane and I shared and Connie had the twin.

Siggy Booboo begged to sleep on the floor because he didn’t have money for his own room. We agreed so long as he stayed on the floor.

Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia PennsylvaniaIn the middle of the night, I heard Connie scream followed by terrific thumping noises and a man’s voice yelling fearful apologies. Siggy, tired of the hard floor (so he said), had hopped into bed with Connie. We woke the whole building. Every door opened to a young woman in scanty lingerie – oh so French, I thought.

The next morning, the hotel manager told us to find another hotel. We were too loud and disrupted his business, which we later realized was a brothel.

We found more legitimate lodgings and began to paint. Every day, all day. At night we dined on cheap wine and baguettes. Occasionally, we would chat up some American boys who would buy us dinner.
Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Paris was still recovering from WWII. I remember seeing the soldiers who had lost their legs begging from wheeled carts on the ground. Collapsed buildings were still scattered throughout the city. There was a meter in our hallway – slip in a sou for enough electricity to find your door.

Painting on location was much harder than in the studio, but that trip made me an artist. I sketched the Seine countless times. I mixed endless color wheels. I might have had one decent painting in 20, but I learned more from the failures.

It was the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I have returned to Europe many times over the years, thinking of Connie and Jane on Siggy’s motorcycle – and my young self drinking it all in. So, I will tell you to work hard for what you love, and mistakes are your best teachers.

To view Kay’s more recent work and read her other blogs visit kaysmithartist web address. Kay Smith is Artist Laureate of Illinois.


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Kay Smith Artist Laureate of IL Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania

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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