Photo of Ilona Royce-Smithkin's hands as she sketches, taken by Joana Miranda

When my friend Tom told me that he was going to visit artist Ilona Royce Smithkin, I jumped at the chance to tag along.  Tucked away on a tiny street in the Village, we encountered Ilona in the smallest apartment I’ve seen in New York City.

Her kitchen (a kettle and microwave)…

Photo of Ilona's kitchen, taken by Joana Miranda

And pantry (the window ledge)….

Photo of Ilona's NY apartment "pantry" taken by Joana Miranda

were curiosities in and of themselves.  In a space not really big enough for even one person, the three of us moved around each other as if playing a game of Twister. From this environment, you might expect to meet a shy wall-flower, but…

Ilona, at 91, though diminutive in stature, is anything but receding!

Photo of Ilona Royce-Smithkin, taken by Joana Miranda

Welcoming us warmly, she promptly sat down to do a sketch of Tom’s eye.

Ilona Royce-Smithkin at work sketching, photo taken by Joana Miranda

She worked quickly and in silence after instructing us to tell her about ourselves.

Photo of Ilona Royce-Smithkin's hands as she sketches, taken by Joana Miranda

We were both too intrigued to say anything, so the room was quiet until she presented the finished sketch.

Photo of Ilona showing a finished sketch, taken by Joana Miranda

Meanwhile, when I wasn’t taking pictures of Ilona sketching Tom, I took pictures of some of her artwork…

Photo of Ilona's artwork, taken by Joana Miranda

And the simple, but elegant arrangement of fresh-cut flowers on a table.

Photo of several glass vases of fresh flowers, taken by Joana Miranda

Ilona showed us photos of some of her oil paintings (note how she’s painted herself into the upper left corner)…

Photo of Ilona showing a photo of one of her paintings, taken by Joana Miranda

Magazine articles where she’s been profiled…

Photo of Ilona with a magazine article about her, taken by Joana Miranda

And many wonderful photos taken by her photographer friends.

Photo of a collection of Ilona Royce-Smithkin's treasured photos, taken by Joana Miranda

A true performer at heart, Ilona then rendered us speechless with her charming recitation of a poem written especially for her and lauding her exuberant (and homemade) trademark red eyelashes!

Fine artist, teacher, TV personality, fashion icon, raconteur, chanteuse and all-around free-spirit, this is  Ilona Royce Smithkin!

Photo of Ilona Royce Smithkin holding orange fabric, taken by Joana Miranda



    • Joana says:

      Ilona is certainly a character! I was worn out towards the end of our visit, but she was still going strong. I hope I have 1/2 that much energy when I’m 91…

      🙂 Joana

  1. Helen Reich says:

    Fascinating. I would have been too claustrophobic in such a small space, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, perhaps. I must get a look at her artwork.

    • Joana says:

      Hi Helen,

      If I had to live in a space like that, I think I’d get rid of everything except a twin mattress, a chair with collapsible side desk, and the 3 vases of flowers. Even though her space is minuscule, it was made microscopic by all of the things crammed in there. But how do you part with 91 years of memories?

      Ciao – Joana

    • Joana says:

      I’m sure Ilona would be delighted to hear that! I hope I have her energy, openness and joie de vivre when I get to be her age (if I make it that far!)

      All best wishes,

  2. jeanniemaries says:

    A fun visit here! I’ve seen her here and there on the web and enjoy her spirit! I love how she enjoys all her things and lives among them. She would be lonely with just three vases of flowers, a mattress and a desk.

    • Joana says:

      Hi Jeannie,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my post on Ilona! She’s certainly a unique and very special lady!

      With all best wishes,

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