Archive for Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ukraine-born artist fascinated by the West

December 21, 2005

Peter Smokorowski has always been interested in history, especially his own.

A lifelong learner, he said he's spent a lot of time looking into the history of his native country -- but even that was a mystery for much of his early years, as his parents often told him he was Polish.

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"For a while, I didn't even know what I was," he said.

Smokorowski eventually learned that he was born in Ukraine, and ever since the Shawnee artist has been researching the culture and heritage of that land. His historical interests also were piqued when he was asked to take part in Shawnee's Sesquicentennial Calender, painting the Kenneth Smith home for the month of October.

The home was first the Garrett house, built some time after Jack Garrett bought the property in 1869. Garrett emigrated from England in the 1850s with his three brothers, all master stonemasons. He built his home with sloped interior walls to conserve heat, a method popular in England at the time.

Kenneth Smith bought the home in 1933, building a factory next door to create his famous golf clubs. A recent report for the Kansas State Historical Society identified the property as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Like many of the artists for the calendar, Smokorowski worried that the architectural painting required for the calendar would be a challenge.

"I haven't done buildings in a while, and they can be time-consuming," he said. "I think I was one of the last people to get mine done."

Smokorowski had wide artistic experience, however, from the nearly 40 years he created cards at Hallmark. He was born in Ukraine and moved to western Germany as a child in 1941. It was there, under the tutelage of a good teacher, that he discovered his love of art.

His family moved to Newton, Kan., when he was a teenager, and he attended the Kansas City Art Institute, graduating in 1961 and beginning his work at Hallmark, where he retired in 1999.

Though he worked with several different media creating cards, on his own time Smokorowski preferred painting country-western scenes, whether that was a farm landscape or Native Americans.

And though it took him some time to finish the painting for the calendar, he said he's happy with the result -- well, at least marginally satisfied. The perfectionist in him wishes he could have done a little better.

"I'm never 100 percent happy," Smokorowski said. "There's always something that you can find fault with."

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