Like a fine wine, Ilona Smithkin, ninety-one, has only gotten better with age. She is an artist and educator. In the ’70s she hosted a ground-breaking educational painting program on PBS, called Ilona’s Palette.
The vivacious Ilona Royce Smithkin was born in Poland and raised in Nazi Germany, during which she developed a nervous shake – she feared the doorbell would ring and someone would come in and kill her family for no reason – that has lasted a lifetime. When her family came to the US in ’38, Ilona was a teenager and recalls not knowing how to laugh.
“I would feel like me with or without my eyelashes, because I take myself along. They don’t talk, I do. They don’t think, I do.”
Smithkin says she has a very good relationship with her body and her hair. “We talk to each other. Sometimes I say, ‘Why the hell are you doing this to me? I’m so good to you.’ And it says, ‘Well… let me think about it.’”
“This happened a couple years ago. A theatre approached me and said, “Do you like the theatre? Do you want to help the theatre?’ I said ‘Of course! What do I have to do?’ Pose nude. I said ‘My dear, everything on me that used to stand up is falling down by now.’ They said: ‘Don’t worry, we won’t show all of those things.”
“I feel sad for people who are perfectionists. Nothing is absolute. We should all strive to be better, but they are so domineered by perfection– instead of being the boss, perfection is the boss.” Smithkin
“I don’t like to see pictures from wartime, a time when I was very unhappy. I didn’t even know how to laugh when I was young, fourteen or sixteen. I came here and looked at people, and they laughed at lunchtime. I thought, ‘How can they laugh? What is there to laugh about in life?’” Smithkin
Ilona now surrounds herself with paintings and comforts of her home. She explains, “I have to be up because it’s difficult enough to deal with the fact that you only have a matter of time and you learn to expect that and make the most out of life.” Instead, she paints, dances and sings her way through life, including a stint of theatrical nudity.
Traveling through her home
About the author Tami Rebekah