Kathryn Smith, journalist, community activist / co-founder of the Cancer Association of Anderson in South Carolina and now Missy LeHand biographer with The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency (publisher Touchstone Books a division of Simon & Schuster, September 2016) is a delight to talk to, listen to her slow jazz Southern drawl and explore what inspires her.
And so we began to talk while driving on narrow country roads, on a clear and balmy day in November; I discovered Kathryn’s inspiration.
Our conversation follows.
What inspires you?
KATHRYN SMITH: History inspires me and it always has every since I was a little kid. And it’s funny, you know, I find these threads that I’ve followed since I was an early teen. I’ve always been interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII; since my early 30s, it’s been the Pre-Raphaelites and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ve been interested in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the 1920s since I was in high school and I continue to be.
There was something FDR biographer Geoffrey Ward said about history being a moving river, things keep being uncovered from the river — dredged out of the river — history changes even though it’s history. So I guess I just really enjoy when there is some new fact or some new person — that’s my inspiration.
Marguerite (Missy) LeHand
I’m dredging a body out of the river myself with Missy because she has been ignored, misunderstood, mischaracterized and really just forgotten; thanks to her great-nieces who have an incredible archive of her life, and my own digging, luck and connections, I feel like I’ve fleshed her out, though she is still mysterious, an enigma even to me.
Missy with FDR at his desk in the White House.
And Paris totally inspires. I am completely obsessed with Paris and the history of Paris, the hidden history of Paris, the catacombs under Paris. How those thousands and thousands of bodies ended up in the catacombs under the streets of Paris. It is really a violent city and tragic in so many ways and there is all that beauty on top of all that sad and violent history.
I get to Paris as often as I can — fairly often — I counted seven times in the last ten years. My mother always says: “you’re going to Paris again? Why don’t you go somewhere else?” But I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s just because every time I go to Paris, I go to the old places I’ve been before, but I always find something new and it’s at least thousand year old city and there is something new every time I go. Plus it’s a modern, thriving City — with art, theatre, fashion — everything is changing and evolving, so it’s not like a museum.
Photo by Kathryn Smith of Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris:
“We will never forget the importance of being earnest” is written in white.
My love for Little Red Riding Hood started when I took a snapshot of my daughter Elizabeth in a red hoodie when she was about three. She was peeping out with a sort of wary look that made me think of Little Red and the wolf. As a result, I made a series of quilts on this theme, including one I turned into a book; I have collected dozens of versions of the book, from old vintage ones to modern incarnations to foreign editions in French, Japanese, and Czech, among other languages.
Kathryn’s Red Riding Hood quilt on the cover of her book.
Kathryn as Little Red, partying with the wolf.
I also love making things. I’ve always worked with textiles since I was a really small child. My mother actually still has the first quilt I made. It’s about the size of an egg I guess, and it was made of little scraps of felt from some Christmas ornaments she was making in the 1960s; I sewed them together all these little scraps and I made this little quilt. She has it in a frame: “Kathryn’s First Quilt”. (chuckling)
So I still love quilting. I especially love to find old quilts that need help or have never been finished. To find a quilt-top that’s never been quilted, to repair it and to make it useful is a favorite thing to do.
Photo: Kathryn and her restored quilt; it was her great grandmother’s.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: Threads! Threads inspire Kathryn Smith. The threads of history, Paris, Little Red Riding Hood and fabric — they all inspire her.
And Kathryn Smith inspires!
Thank you Kathryn.
Please connect with Kathryn Smith in the COMMENTS section for this post.
A writer’s still life. Here is a corner of inspiration in Kathryn’s library.
From the left, clockwise: typewriter that belonged to a foreign correspondent in Japan; photograph of Missy & FDR; popular bust of FDR; a beer-opener donkey from FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932; Missy LeHand’s donkey from her White House desk.
On the right: Kathryn Smith is dressed as Missy LeHand at a costume fundraiser for the Cancer Association of Anderson she co-founded. On the left is her friend dressed as Eleanor Roosevelt with a faux-fox-fur Kathryn made.
Read an excerpt from the Gatekeeper on Politico.com by Kathryn Smith, published August 28, 2016:
Join Kathryn on Facebook. Launching soon: KathrynSmithWords.com.
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