Best known for watercolor painting, Leila Hentzen Smith was inspired to become an artist by growing up with her grandmother, who was friends with famous artists. She loved having the opportunity to speak with them and see their work, and she eventually decided to further her education in the subject and pursue the field professionally. Along the way, Ms. Hentzen Smith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Miami University in Ohio in 1955 and was a diplomate at the Famous Artists Schools in 1959.
One of Ms. Hentzen Smith’s preferred art methods is plein air painting, because she says that when she paints on location there is a huge difference in what she sees. She paints landscapes, flowers, and boats. She says she gets a much more detailed color outdoors, and can feel the wind or rain on her face, which is reflected in her paintings. She will only paint from a photo she herself has taken since she can remember the details. Her late husband, Richard, was an architect and a painter who would often paint in oil out in the snow and freezing temperatures. The Richard H. and Leila Hentzen Smith Architecture Scholarship has been established in their names at Miami University in Ohio for students majoring in architecture.
During her career, Ms. Hentzen Smith has exhibited in numerous juried and invitational art fairs and one-woman and group shows. She has shown her work at the Plymouth Arts Center, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts, the Rahr-West Art Museum, the Boerner Botanical Gardens, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Mount Mary University. She is a represented artist in the permanent collections of the Arts Commission of the City of Milwaukee.
With her love of art and her skills as a painter, Ms. Hentzen Smith wanted to help the younger generations find the same passion she felt throughout childhood and beyond. From 2009 until 2017, she taught watercolor painting in the recreation department at the Mequon-Thiensville School District. She taught quilting at the Milwaukee Public Schools from 1975 to 1979, and has served on the dean’s advisory council of the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin. Now in retirement, she still makes it a point to paint at least once a week, sometimes with friends.
Besides Ms. Hentzen Smith’s large role in the arts community, she has also given her time to various other organizations and associations. She has been a member of the Wisconsin Society of Mayflower Descendants, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Wisconsin Society of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America and the Wisconsin Arts Society of Milwaukee. Additionally, she is affiliated with the Museum of Wisconsin Art, the Cedarburg Artists Guild, the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, Women Descendants of the Ancient & Honorable Artillery, and Salvation Army International.
In recognition of her achievements, Ms. Hentzen Smith has received many honors, including best of show for painting at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, honorable mention for painting from the Bayshore Merchants Association, and outstanding junior member of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Additionally, she is featured in Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in the World.
When Ms. Hentzen Smith has spare time, she enjoys needlecrafts, swimming, and quilting.