Professor’s Work Joins U.S. Coast Guard’s Art Collection

The painting “Stoic Responder” by Ken Smith, assistant professor of graphic design, has been accepted into the permanent collection of the United States Coast Guard and will be on display July 3-15 at the Salmagundi Club in New York.

“It’s certainly always good to get a positive response from your viewing public,” Smith said of his 22” x 30” oil-on-paper painting, noting that “Stoic Responder” is the third of his paintings accepted by the Coast Guard. “It’s always a thrill to be included in a permanent collection.”

Developed through the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP), the collection comprises nearly 1,800 works that are displayed across the nation at museums, galleries, libraries and patriotic events.

Although he never served in the USCG or any other military branch, Smith said he has always been captivated by the storied traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.

"Stoic Responder" painting

"Stoic Responder" by Ken Smith

“I’ve always been interested in military history. I grew up in Tennessee, surrounded by vestiges of the Civil War and stories of the heroic Southern resistance—the Lost Cause narrative,” he said. “I see fundamental nobility in the courage of an individual who volunteers to serve his or her country in the military, particularly in the U.S., where this service has always typically been a voluntary action.”

A steadfast respect to civic duty and national pride permeate Smith’s artwork. “This idea of nobility, combined with the material culture of the military, I think, makes for very compelling imagery,” he said.

The mission of the COGAP is to use fine art as an outreach tool for educating diverse audiences about the Coast Guard’s history of service, duty and heroism. Some of the works in the permanent collection are displayed in offices of members of Congress, senior officials of the executive branch of government and other military services.

Contributing COGAP member artists such as Smith are volunteers who donate their time and talent.

“Part of the attraction of being a member of the Coast Guard Art Program is that you have access to equipment and personnel at USCG bases for reference photography and so forth,” said Smith, who two summers ago visited the Savannah Air Station in Georgia to photograph Coast Guard service women in action. It was there that Smith met Avionics Electrical Technician Taylor Anderson, who agreed to pose for a series of photographic shots in and around her helicopter.

The Anderson photos became the foundation for two of Smith’s COGAP paintings. His first submission, “Air Station Savannah,” won COGAP Best of Show for 2009 (the George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence). The photos were also the basis for “Stoic Responder.”

“I had the drawing for this art finished a couple of years ago and was basically waiting for an opportunity to use it,” said Smith, who had been exploring various ideas for a new painting but “hadn’t really struck on anything” he found inspiring.

“That’s when I remembered that this drawing was literally waiting for me to paint,” he said. “I was initially reluctant to use it, since I had already done a painting of Ms. Anderson, but the Coast Guard was enthusiastic about the subject matter, so I just went with that — and I’m pretty happy with the result.”

Another of Smith’s paintings, "MSST: Sighting Down Threats,” won COCAG’s 2010 George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence.

Smith places a high emphasis on capturing the essence of his subject matter in its most natural element. “I attempt to do paintings that are relevant and understandable to everyday people, and I try to extol the virtues of everyday people — often in extraordinary situations,” he said. “I am committed to realism, and my art supports my own notions of heroism, duty and commitment.”

Smith further sees his contributions as an opportunity to recognize Coast Guard personnel for their service and sacrifice. “They’re a generally underappreciated service, despite the fact that their jobs put them in harm’s way,” he said. “Their professionalism and commitment are both commendable and inspirational.”

May 25, 2011
Keith Hagarty