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CHICAGO — From the Revolutionary War to Ernest Hemingway novels, for nearly five decades Kay Smith has captured and documented American history with the stroke of a paintbrush.

And last month Smith, an Illinois artist laureate, along with family and friends celebrated her 100th birthday.

With a proclamation from the City of Chicago dedicating February 27 as “Kay Smith Day,” the centenarian sipped champagne and enjoyed the festivities. 

But Smith is also a celebrated artist. Born in Vandalia Illinois, she moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was there she honed her watercolor skills that is reflected in her wide collections of art.   

In 1974, Smith was commissioned to illustrate a series of books celebrating the bicentennial. 

The “American Legacy Collection” is comprised of more than 250 pieces of work by Smith. From Valley Forge to the Statue of Liberty, Smith has often painted on site to accurately depict and document history.   

Throughout her esteemed career Smith has been commissioned to paint famed Triple Crown Racehorse Winner Secretariat as well as a series of illustrations based on Hemingway novels. In 1994 she was awarded the prestigious honor of Illinois Artist Laureate by the Lincoln Academy of Illinois and in 2015 she painted this scene of Tuskegee Airmen escorting bombers during WWII.  A piece requested by the Pritzker Military Library where it hangs today.   

A bit of a perfectionist when it comes to her work, Smith says it is important for an artist to conduct thorough research.

Smith she is one of Chicago’s Very Own. 

In addition to her work, Smith also taught watercolor art for 20 years at the Old Town Triangle Art Center.