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.

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.



Artist Kay Smith

Artist Kay Smith

Another Milestone for Artist Kay Smith

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