Bryn Mawr College is proud to honor acclaimed musician, writer and visual artist Patti Smith with the 2013 Hepburn Medal. She was a trailblazer in the male-dominated world of rock and roll, and conveys enormous passion and continues to transform herself throughout her artistic journey. Smith accepted the medal in a ceremony at Goodhart Hall on Feb. 7, 2013.
Smith has produced a body of work whose influence branches out through generations, across disciplines, and around the world. She is a poet, writer, singer, songwriter, photographer and fine artist. Blazing onto the music scene in the mid-70s, Smith forged a reputation as one of the decade's first visionary artists—merging poetry and rock in vital new ways. Her 1975 debut album, Horses, is routinely ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame. Her accomplishments also include the 2010 National Book Award in NonFiction for her memoir Just Kids.
In addition to the Feb. 7 medal ceremony, Smith also staged an afternoon performance for students in Goodhart Hall.
In accepting her award, Smith noted that Katharine Hepburn was a role model of artistic independence for her generation. She also spoke of a more personal connection.
Smith recalled how one day when she was working at Scribner’s book store in New York, Hepburn came in and casually browsed through the aisles, occasionally commenting “Spence would have liked this,” in reference to her departed love, Spencer Tracy.
Several years later, Smith found herself doing the same thing as she browsed the racks of a clothing store and thinking of her recently departed husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. At that moment, she thought back to Hepburn and the unintended lesson she’d given her on grieving gracefully.
“She [Hepburn] nourished my youth when I dreamed of being an artist and writer but she also, in her own way, helped me get through the saddest and most human part of my existence. So thank you Katharine and I will cherish my medal,” Smith said before launching into her evening performance.
In awarding the Hepburn Medal to Smith, Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe noted that while on the surface it may appear odd that the “godmother of punk” was receiving an award from a college conceived of as a women’s Oxford or Harvard, Bryn Mawr has always been “known for its ‘cussed individualists.’”
“I suspect Bryn Mawr actually has a punk spirit operating underneath the skin of these Gothic walls,” McAuliffe said.
Photo credit: Patti Smith, 2007 (c) Edward Mapplethorpe