Chicago’s Architects – continued

Hi—Yes I know time has passed but the stories I tell are on time warp and as such are fresh as yesterday.

So to continue, remember the Big Night was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of SOAR, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents. This is a posh neighborhood, one of the wealthiest in the U.S. A lot of talents with big names live in its borders between Oak Street and the Chicago River and from Michigan Avenue to the shore of Lake Michigan.

It gets its name from George Streeter who in the late 1880s wrecked his cruise boat on a sandbar just off the lake shore. When the city of Chicago planned to build Lake Shore Drive, he made a claim against the city claiming this land was his. For years that became decades, he was a thorn in the side of progress and the City of Chicago. In 1918, he was jailed. The courts ruled out his claim. He lost the battle but won a place in history.

george streeter profile

George Streeter

Captian George Streeter in Jail-1

Captain George Streeter, having caused too much trouble.

Although the area is filled with the rich and famous and their real estate the most expensive in Chicago, it is George Streeter, with his longevity as a squatter that Streeterville is named after.

first house on streeter

One of the first “houses” by Streeter on Streeterville, a one room box built from boat wreckage.

Now begins the round about story that leads to my student, John Holabird, a WWII hero and famous architect. The great German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe came to the United States in 1938. The Nazis had shut down his avant garde Bauhaus School of Architecture. For many years he lived in Streeterville in an apartment at 200 East Pearson. It is said he lived here in an environment that was an “antitheses of the architectural style he favored and taught.

ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The great German architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Everyone knows the affect he had on our Chicago skyline with his “less is more” style of skyscrapers built like boxes of steel and glass.

Dirk Lohan, the grandson of Mies van der Rohe, lives in Streeterville on Lake Shore Drive and has for years. He was our invited eminent speaker for SOAR”s 40th Anniversary Blueprints Gala. . He came to America 40 years ago from West Germany to study with his illustrious grandfather who taught architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Lohan’s talk was much about his life working with Mies through the years.

Dirk Lohan

Dirk Lohan

Now the end of my story. John Holabird lived at 200 E. Person for years in the same apartment Mies had occupied. John had long credits as a third generation architect of the dynasty of Holabird & Root architectural firm. The apartment was old. It was comfortable and welcoming. The only thing fashionable about it was its Streeterville address. Odd isn’t it, that Mies a disciple of steel & glass, open areas as spare as a Quaker chair, enjoyed old fashion intimacy in his own living space.

In my watercolor classes at the Old Town Triangle many students came to study after they retired from their professions. John Holabird was one. Already an accomplished artist he was a great influence on the class. He was very interested in my work – especially my paintings of WWII. I did a painting—“Battle of Pointe du Hoc, D-Day June 1944”- he was especially interested in. It showed the US Rangers assaulting the German fortifications at The battle for Pointe du Hoc. The Germans considered the Pointe unassailable due to the battery in position at the top of the cliffs that loomed l00 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The US Rangers, 2nd Battalion, 225 strong facing steady gunfire firing down upon them, managed to raffle up the steep cliffs in 90 minutes but at great cost. Only 40 Rangers survived the assault.

john holabird

Architect, WWII hero and my friend, John Holabird.

John died in 2009 at age 88. It was then at his funeral I learned about his WWII record and that he was a recognized war hero. He was in class for nearly 10 years. Deeply interested in my work as an historical artist—yet I knew nothing of the story I am about to repeat to you. His friend Kitty Weese, widow of another great architect Harry Weese and also my student at the same time John was, never told me about his war record.

It is impressive. He served in the Army in the Army Corps of Engineers, did parachute duty and received a Silver Star for his part in taking a dangerous German held bridge in Holland. “In broad daylight, facing German guns, Mr. Holabird and fellow soldiers paddled boats across a river to reach the bridge, and captured it that night. The episode was immortalized in the 1977 movie “A Bridge Too far” with Robert Redford playing the part of John Holabird.

I cannot look at my painting of “Pointe du Hoc” or the one of “Omaha Beach” and its 10,000 white crosses for the unknown soldiers who fought and fell on the beaches of Normandy without thinking of John’s service.

My students taught me more than I taught them.

Chicago Architecture

The kindly introduced me as the Illinois Artist Laureate. In the row in front (the man with the regal white hair) is acclaimed Chicago architect, Dirk Lohan.

They kindly introduced me as the Illinois Artist Laureate. In the row in front (the man with the regal white hair) is acclaimed Chicago architect, Dirk Lohan. My niece Linda, seated next to me, attended with me.

At the invitation of Karen Burnett, a long time friend and a member of Team Kay,  I attended SOAR’s (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) 40th Anniversary at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday, September 25th. This annual benefit, called BLUEPRINTs, helps to raise money for the Streeterville neighborhood association in Chicago and honors those who aid in bettering communities.

Nearly 200 residents and other Streeterville neighborhood stakeholders came to celebrate with honorary co-chairs Alderman Brian Hopkins (Ward 2) and Alderman Brendan Reilly (Ward 42) lending their congratulations to the crowd. A program featured Emcee Felicia Dechter (Skyline newspapers), President Gail Spreen, Benefit Chair Karen Burnett, MCA Chief Operating Officer Teresa de Guzman, Past President Betty Eaton—and award winners Helen Dunbeck (Betty G. Eaton Spirit) and Dirk Lohan, architect (Vision Into Reality.)

A nice photo of myself on the right and my friend Karen on the far left.

A nice photo of myself on the far right, the night’s honoree Helen Dunbeck, and my friend Karen on the far left.

I donated my painting,”Old Main” as an auction item. This group was honoring architects (among others) who help to shape the city and neighborhood. And this painting shows some of the best of old Chicago architecture.

Me with the painting I donated,

Me with the painting I donated, “Old Main”.

This painting was a study of the old Armour Mission, and it (like me) has quite a history. It was founded by meat packing czar, Philip Armour, who then took his mission and made it into one of the first technical schools at the turn of the century, called the Armour Institute. This school featured architecture as a course of study and produced many of our great architects. It would eventually morph into the Illinois Institute of Technology and this building is still present on one of the campuses.  And to round this whole story out, one of my old art students, John Holabird’s father was one of those great architects that husbanded the nascent beginnings of ITT.

My student, John Holabird's painting he donated, painted in my class.

My student, John Holabird’s painting he donated, painted in my class.

Just talking about architecture conjures so many stories of the great architects of the last century. Who were the great architects of the day ??? …grab your hats, their identity will blow you away.

The year is 1895. Among the great architects involved in the school were Daniel Burnham, John Root , Louis J. Millet, Alfred Alschuler, Louis Skidmore, and John Holabird.

This is enough for today.  Follow me as we are headed for stories on John Holabird, Mees Van der Rohe, his grandson Dirk Lohan, and Streeterville, all springing from the SOAR event. Stay tuned.

My Exhibition, “Painting for Myself” and the Reception.

September 13, 2015 was an inviting day. Warm sunshine splashed the sidewalk as people spilled in threes and fours through the wide open friendly doors of the Old Town Art Center. The crowd came early to enjoy the show, the food, the wine, the friends and the paintings. Buying was brisk. Out of 42 images on display, 20 were sold by the end of the day.

I greeted the guests as they came through the doors . So many surprises —there were the Towbins, Jennifer and Steve from Winnetka, past patrons whom I had not seen in ages and delighted to see again. Eileen Leeming, long time friend, from Florida to see the show, Colette Holt from San Francisco. Then there were hosts of my former students and many of my neighbors. The guests were wonderfully varied and came from the city and suburbs as well as those from far away places.

I thank all of you for coming and making this a successful exhibition and for the deep pleasure we all experienced being together. And a special thanks to The Old Town Triangle Association for their help and for the Old Town Gallery for the exhibition.

Thank you, Leslie Wolfe, Triangle’s director. We could not have had the success we enjoyed without your advisement and guidance. Also thanks to Barbara Guttman. Leslie’s work mate, for her cheerful hands on help when we needed it. And for taking messages for me concerning the exhibit.

Thanks to the Lincoln Park Village for their promotion of my show and help for me through their intern, Courtney Wilson.

I must thank my Team K– Julia Smith, Karen Burnett, Ruth Kimerer, Bev Hossa, Jeanette Keogh, Danny Lena, Steven Rosofsky. These eight individuals are the spark plugs, the generators of the work I am doing. Their help working together to pull this exhibit out of my archives and putting it together for display was what enabled me to have this show. It was My Team, My Team, My Team. Need a drum roll here. Hearty Thanks team. Another time I will tell this whole story and about each member. A story that should be told.

“Painting for Myself” is an expression of me that is unfettered by anyone’s input but my own–they come purely from the inner artist. Some of these subjects relate back to my American Legacy Collection. “Isla, Christina, Spain” is one sketched when I was “following the footprints of Columbus”, 1991, across the south of Spain. It is a direct sketch of the three caravels as a possibility to use it in a show later.  “Genoa, Italy,” the birthplace, of Columbus is another painting from that trip.

Ordinarily these would have gone into The American Legacy Collection but at the end of a month painting in Spain I had a plethora of subjects on Columbus and did not need these two. It is to help me with the future of the American Legacy Collection that my team was formed—to work to see it placed in a facility that will use it for education.   In this we need help that you out there can provide.

If you would like to help me raise money for my American Legacy Collection Foundation, host a fundraiser or contribute or if you have an idea on where we could place the American Legacy Collection, please email me at

What a joyful day it was. My heart is full.

“Painting for Myself” Art Exhibit Sunday, September 13, 2015, at the Old Town Triangle Association Gallery in Chicago

Hi, Hello, Greetings —

I am meeting old friends, special faithful friends that can be put away and wait patiently for their recognition anytime one chooses—personal paintings from stored portfolios. Come, follow along with me.

Here are my friends. I am sorting, deciding about which images I will use selected from my personal portfolios.

Lovely scenes painted in my neighbor's garden.

Lovely scenes painted in my neighbor’s garden.

Dressing them up in mats and frames for their public debut on Sept 13 at the Old Town Triangle Show. Each painting has its own story to tell and in my memories they are so loud that I don’t know which one I will listen to first.

This picture was painted while enjoying my neighbor and her garden on spring evenings.

This picture was painted while enjoying my neighbor and her garden on spring evenings.

This one—my next door neighbor’s garden with the Stone Pig (image size 19” X 14”, framed size 27” X 20”). She was also my student. My neighbor liked her cocktails and invited me over two or three times a week to have an early evening drink. She hated living alone and when she became too in the “dumps” for a good time we would sit in her “Garden with the Stone Pig” and paint together. It is a pleasant memory of my old friend who was one of our country’s first aviatrix. She is long gone. I thought she would leave the stone pig for me but she didn’t

Well I can’t listen to all but let me tell you another quite different story so you can fully enjoy it and I can share a special memory of painting, “Elk in High Pasture” with the Tetons their backdrop, size 27”Lx21”H.

Migrating elk while high in the mountains of Wyoming.

Migrating elk while high in the mountains of Wyoming.

My brother, Paul Dean, lived in Dubois, Wyoming. Every summer, I went out to stay a month with his family. His two daughters and I had free range to ride horseback anywhere we chose. If we got lost he advised, “simply give the horses their heads and they will bring you back to the barn.” It only happened once. The painting was sketched and began in this beautiful meadow in the High Country in its full summer bloom–and as if that was not a gift big enough, as I was swinging my brush happily and purposely on the scene, several elk came into view and stopped to graze. They stood in magnificently majestic poses as if staged then bent to crop the sweet grass as gracefully as dancers in performance. My cup runneth over with gratitude.

More later mates……………

My Life in Art at Old Town Triangle Art Center – a short missive

I first came to the Old Town Triangle Art Center as a student. One of their instructors was a fine artist, Eleanor Coen, whom I knew from art school at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was privileged to study with her. In 1987, I relinquished my student status and became an instructor at the Center. At that time, the administrator told me I would have to build my own class. “Not a problem”, I thought. I had a number of eager followers and the class took on a life of its own. I taught three days a week for years, restarting a defunct Life Drawing class by student demand.

The heady days of being a new instructor.

The heady days of being a new instructor.

The impact of my long association with Old Town Art Center enriched me as an artist and furthered my art career. I had the intrinsic value; the joy of helping my students open their eyes to see and within their selves to understand that the their art must flow from the Heart to the Head to the Hand.

When I resigned from the Center in 2013, I left a lot of myself there.

 Retirement Party - Old Town Triangle Art Center

Retirement Party – Old Town Triangle Art Center

My experience at OTTA and the friends I made in those years will always be a part of my present journey to place my American Legacy Collection in an appropriate facility where it will be used for education.

The Gulf War Parade Down Michigan Avenue, 1991

Dearly Beloveds,

The Chicago Alliance of Visual Artists (CAVA) is having an exhibition at Chicago’s Old Town Triangle Art Center. The Center is in the heart of our Old Town neighborhood – historically storied for its internationally known visual artists; Ivan Albright, Edgar Miller, John Brown and more. It is still a mecca for art, artists and architects with the Old Town Art Center as its anchor.

Many returning soldiers of WWII found housing in Old Town. They were the artists and architects who began a rebirth of the houses and streets and as time went on became highly desirable property and a place to live.

CAVA, to celebrate this tradition of the arts in Old Town, has brought together area artists in a group exhibition opening Sunday August 9, 2 pm to 5 pm at the Old Town Triangle Gallery located at 1763 North Park. It is a juried show and I have been asked to have a painting as part of the Old Town exhibit. The invitation reads “We are inviting selected artists of note, such as yourself to be a part of the show.  We are looking for a piece that has some connection to the neighborhood and which reflects your unique style. Of course we will waive the entry fee.” from Patricia O’Malley, one of the organizers of the exhibition.

Out of the six digitals I presented for them, they chose “The Gulf War Parade Down Michigan Avenue, 1991”

"Gulf Parade Down Michigan Ave, 1991"

“Gulf Parade Down Michigan Ave, 1991”

The Gulf War, as you remember, was our first engagement with Hussein and Iraq. George H.W. Bush was president. 12 years later in 2003, President George W. Bush would send troops into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

In my painting the parade is passing in front of the Art Institute where the dignitaries were gathered. The scud missile is depicted almost across from the Institute. It is identified by the balloons in red, white & blue that arch over the missile riding on its platform. The crowd cheered and cheered, wildly waving small flags or anything white as the deadly missile came into view. As I sketched and photographed, it was the young service men who stepped out so smartly, so intently with eyes straight ahead. It was they, so young, so manly, so American, so seemingly dedicated—our soldiers, spending their precious youth protecting our country, I waved, cheered and cried for them.

The Uninvited Speaker – A memory of July 4, 1933.

Dearly Beloveds—

Let me tell you a story of a benchmark 4th of July in 1933 when I was 10 years old. The celebration that planted the American flag forever in my heart.

The 4th of July “doin’s” as mother called it was an all-day picnic, fireworks, and a program held in the Civil War Memorial Park in Vernon, Illinois. It was a small park on a little piece of the prairie set aside at the edge of town years ago to honor our Civil War dead. It was bounded on two sides by cornfields. Canopies of oak trees completely shaded it. I love this little park to this day.

The park had a first-rate bandstand and band. The stand was built with six sides and always newly painted white and green for the 4th. The members of the band were splendidly dressed in colorful uniforms of blue and red with gold braid, stripes, whistles and caps with celluloid bills.

The bandleader was a veteran of World War 1. He led the band with his left hand. There was no arm in the right sleeve of his bright uniform. It was neatly folded back and pinned to an epaulet on his right shoulder. “Given in the service to his country” father never failed to point out to us children. In observation we were expected to stand in silence beside him for two minutes. And we did.

People dressed up for this occasion. Women made new clothes for their children to wear and they either made a new dress for themselves or bought one at the Dry Goods Store. The men & boys shed their overalls for the day and came in a nice shirt and pants with a new belt. How we looked was important.

So now we come to the crux of the day, the uninvited speaker .

The speeches had been given, the prepared program completed, songs sung and now the mayor of the town steps forward and asks “is there a veteran or anyone here who has a word they would like to say before we conclude with the pledge of allegiance?”

When Dutch Looie approached the podium and asked in broken English if he could speak, an astonished hush fell over the crowd. “This is America, said the mayor. Please come –take the podium. We are celebrating free speech.” He took his place on the bandstand and faced the crowd. I knew Dutch Looie. He was a German emigrant who lived in another little town near us, Shobonier, Illinois. He was a veterinarian and often came to our farm to treat a sick cow, horse, or hog. His wife Frieda came with him sometimes and brought little cinnamon cakes and said “yah”, yah” no matter what we said to her.

They always were barefoot and in worn brown coveralls. And now to my intense embarrassment for him, he was barefoot and dusty in his brown coveralls—on the 4th of July! … on the podium, barefoot and in worn but clean brown coveralls!

In my new white dress Mother made for me with it’s red cherries embroidered on the collar, I slumped down in my seat. I writhed in an agony of embarrassment for him—so much so I didn’t hear what he was saying causing mother to poke me sharply with her elbow and say “sit up straight and listen.”

He was an ox of a man—strong as an oak tree and there he stood planted on our podium in brown coveralls and barefoot. His words began to reach my ears. His sweeping handlebar mustache quivered and animated the air as he spoke. In broken but careful English, he was telling us his gratitude for America.

How good life was in America. How we could work in freedom—move in freedom – travel in perfect freedom. “One can travel the whole United States “ he said, “and never have to carry personal papers. There are no borders. You have free schools, free libraries, and a man’s worth is judged on his honesty and ability, and not where he comes from.”

Then he stopped, turned and left the stage. His ovation was thunderous. Men and boys did not whistle or shout out hurrahs. Overcome with emotions the crowd showed their hearts with continued clapping and surging forward to shake Dutch Looie’s hand.

And I? He had embarrassed my sense of propriety, but he had flooded my conscience with an awareness for others I have never lost. He stirred my 10-year-old mind. He enlarged my sense of history to a place beyond family history, beyond our farm or Vernon, Illinois. His barefoot left a giant footprint on my youthful self.

I sign off with these words to Dutch Looie. Of all the speakers I have heard since July 4, 1933 none has moved me as profoundly as yours did more than 80 years ago. That day I learned what “love my country” means.


Kay Smith

Father’s Day Remembrances

From L to R: brother Dean, sister Deedee, Kay, brother Dennis, sister Gertrude, Mama, Papa

From L to R:
brother Dean, sister Deedee, Kay, brother Dennis, sister Gertrude, Mama, Papa. Taken in the 1040’s.

Dearly Beloveds,

My father had wavy blond hair and large blue eyes and he was always very slim. It wasn’t necessarily genetics . He never over ate. Mother could have his favorite pie, gooseberry, and he would put it aside and at the next meal he would eat it first. He was a farmer but not born to it and truthfully he never took to it like he needed.

When we children were little he was young and full of fun—as frolicking as a new colt and just as uncoordinated. The times he played with us in the summer evenings were always special.  Mom would bring her chair and watch—usually with a little one in her lap. or she was darning socks. “Now Paul,” she would say many times, “don’t act a fool and get hurt” much laughter always from my three brothers.

One evening we were playing Red Rover. The two bases were about 20 feet apart with our clothes line crossing the middle distance. The clothes line was a slender wire not a rope line as it is in most cases. As twilight came on one could not see it easily.  A fact  pointed out by mother and therefore this was not the best place to play Red Rover. My father said it was okay he would remember to run under it – the rest of us too short to worry about it. The play had hardly begun before in Father’s excitement to tag my oldest fleet-footed brother, the hapless man ran full force into the wire clothes line.  It caught him under his chin and flipped him over, sprawling into the grass.

“Oh my goodness!”,  Mother screamed “what have you done to your father!”.  We children began to cry, the dogs set up a barking chorus, the  nearby chicken yard clacked up a ruckus. Father got awkwardly up. Feeling foolish.  He walked up and down the yard , bent over and touched the ground and in general showed  mother he was all right.  Mother put hot liniment on his neck that made him holler. He had a sore neck the next day anyway and an ugly welt that was hard to explain to neighbors who asked. But he assured us there would be more games but no more bases that ran under the clothes line ever again.

As a historical artist,  I am mindful that such snippets of memory as these weave the fabric of our family history; the platform on which our American history is built.



Mother’s Day

The Metzger Homestead

The Metzger Homestead

May 2015

Dearly Beloveds,

A flood or remembrances crowd my thoughts on this passing Mother’s Day. I am revisiting in my thoughts of our old farm house where my five siblings  and I grew up. I remember how we were each scrubbed, pressed and combed and then told  “sit on a chair”. So there six of us would be like birds on a branch waiting for the moment to leave for church wiggling and squirming ready to fly out the door when “let’s go” was called.

I remember with great affection our old Methodist Church. Built by the men in the community years before me, it stood on its own corner of the prairie at the crossroads to Vernon, Illinois and Shobonier, Illinois with four miles to either town. It was not a pretty church. There were no trees to soften its profile against  the landscape. No plantings to hide the stone blocks it rested upon to raise it above the ground. The wind whistled under it in the winter and generations of rabbits nested under it in the summer. It was never locked for it had no lock. Just lift the latch and walk in stranger and take shelter.  Spare and unassuming, forthright as the prairie it stood on.

My mother was the choir leader. Every Sunday she thumped out wonderful spirited music on the old upright piano and the choir would swing into “Bringing in the Sheaves”, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”, “Old Rugged Cross” with gusto and praise to God.  And you can be sure  that we six would be  in the front row in full view of her sharp watching eyes.

Mother’s  Day was a big church observance.  At a door wide enough to drive a team of horses through, two women of the congregation stood. One held white carnations and the other held red carnations.   As we entered each person or family was asked  “is your mother among the living?” – those who said yes were given a red carnation  and all others received white carnations.

When I was about nine or ten I  began to see Mother’s Day as sad. We children would be given red and Mother was given white. It was about this time of my life that I noticed how a shadow of sadness passed over her face causing her mouth  to curve down and the sparkle leave her eyes for a moment and even her body seemed to wilt somewhat.  A chill ran through me. Someday I would be the one to receive a white carnation.

I did not know my mother’s mother. She, my grandmother, died  long  before I was born. I carried her name. My goodness, it registered with me that my mother had been a little girl too with a mother just like she was to me. My curiosity was set off  and I began to listen to our family’s stories with a keener understanding.  This was family history Mother said and part of our heritage.  Oh wow, family history made me feel tall in the saddle.

But wait –the winds of change were brewing.  Politics entered my life in 1932 when FDR  won the  presidency from Herbert Hoover.  Father was so indignant he sold a pig and bought  a radio to keep track of Mr. Roosevelt. He was a “dyed in the wool” Abraham Lincoln Republican and thought it the only party worth “beans”.  The radio opened door after door after door to the world for us of stories way beyond our community life and our church.

Thus it was that my childhood experience of family history to national history and then world history laid down a level path that  I would eventually follow and become an American historical artist, an on-site researcher, painter and teller of our American history and what it means to be an American.

Hear this– and remember that we are all part of history—we are all  joined together Holding Hands With History. And realize this too—you can’t let go not even when you are physically removed for we all leave our mark on the timeline of history and every individual on that timeline is important to his time and the shadow you cast no matter how small or short, how long or tall it remains an imprint handed down to our next generations.

Kay Smith, Painter of the American Scene

Kay Smith’s watercolor paintings set the stage for President Obama’s visit to Lincoln Park, Illinois.

President Barack Obama visits his hometown to do a bit of fundraising.  Kay’s paintings provide a backdrop for the evening’s agenda.

President Obama visits Lincoln Park, Illinois

Kay Smith, Watercolor Laureate of Illinois paintings thrilled the crowd.  As a historical artist Kay’s paintings are all personally researched and painted on site.  Her paintings tell a story. Kay-Smith-Artist-Laureate_Obama-Event-Lincoln-Park-2 Kay’s paintings pictured above are Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and Fountain of Flowers which was painted on site at the Illinois Executive Mansion. Kay-Smith-Artist-Laureate_Obama-Event-Lincoln-Park-4 President Obama acknowledged Illinois Governor Pat Quinn as an “outstanding governor of the great state of Illinois.” Kay-Smith-Artist-Laureate_Obama-Event-Lincoln-Park-1

Also attending were White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Henry Munoz, the Finance Chair of the DNC and architect of Obama’s fundraising strategy in the Latino community.

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