Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Ken Smith, George Gray Award winner

"Lifelines" by Ken Smith. U.S. Coast Guard Art Collection.

“Lifelines” by Ken Smith. U.S. Coast Guard Art Collection.

Two women in operational dress uniforms and life vests stand on the bow of a Coast Guard response vessel, holding lengths of yellow rope attached to a bright orange ball. Their faces are steely-eyed in determination – they know the line they handle is a lifeline for someone in distress; a connection, a hope for survival.

It is this image Coast Guard painter Ken Smith captured that earned him the 2017 George Gray Award for Artistic Excellence. His “Lifeline” painting was inspired by his time spent with crew members from Coast Guard Station Emerald Isle in Beaufort, North Carolina, last summer.

“The young women in the painting demonstrated, for me, the coiling and tossing of the yellow lifelines from the deck of their boat,” said Smith. “I was impressed with their obvious focus and dedication to a task that is at once somewhat mundane but also very important. I was also impressed with their youth, and the fact that the Coast Guard, like all the services, expects ordinary people to learn to do extraordinary things.”

Ken Smith takes photos for his painting inspirations at Coast Guard Station Elizabeth Isle in Beaufort, N.C. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.

Ken Smith takes photos for his painting inspirations at Coast Guard Station Elizabeth Isle in Beaufort, N.C. Photo courtesy of Ken Smith.

Smith, a graphic design professor, isn’t new to the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP); this is his fourth time winning the coveted award.

“It’s a huge honor to win the George Gray Award, and the fact that I’ve won four times is still astounding to me,” said Smith. “I’ve always been interested in the military and military imagery, both modern and historical.”

Smith now has five pieces in the Coast Guard Art Collection.

“I really appreciate that the Coast Guard cares about art and understands the impact that an image, a painting, can have on both service members and the public at large, especially in this world of everything governmental being stripped to the barest bones possible,” said Smith.

Smith also said he was encouraged that art and culture is supported by Coast Guard leadership.

Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, attended the COGAP 2017 Reception and Acceptance Ceremony at the Salmagundi Club in New York City and served as one of three jurors for the award. Other jurors included Salmagundi Club president Robert Pillsbury and watercolor artist Frederick Brosen.

Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant of the Coast Guard (left) and Salmagundi Club president Robert Pillsbury present the George Gray Award to Ken Smith at the Coast Guard Art Program 2017 Reception and Acceptance Ceremony at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Photo courtesy of Paul Backalenick.

Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant of the Coast Guard (left) and Salmagundi Club president Robert Pillsbury present the George Gray Award to Ken Smith at the Coast Guard Art Program 2017 Reception and Acceptance Ceremony at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Photo courtesy of Paul Backalenick.

COGAP uses fine art to educate diverse audiences about the Coast Guard; the art provides visual testimony to the unique contribution the service makes to the nation in its multifaceted roles as a military, humanitarian and law enforcement organization. Today, the collection holds nearly 2,000 works of art that capture Coast Guard assets, history and service operations.

Visit the Coast Guard Art Program to learn more or to find out how to submit artwork to the program.

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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