Natalie “Nani” Smith grew up in Friedberg, Germany, and moved to Texas in 1990, following a boyfriend who wanted to become a bush pilot. She worked as a waitress and studied painting and experimental theater in Dallas. She was far from the town where she attended a school that was built in the 1500s, studying Latin for five of those years.
“I used to speak six languages, but all of that has faded since living in the Unites States,” said Smith, whose parents divorced when she was 6. Her father, now deceased, was from Mississippi.
“My life has been a series of fortunate events,” she said. “My motto is ‘do epic stuff and never be afraid.’ There’s a saying in German, ‘if you hold yourself back, your soul will squeak,’ so pursue life to the fullest.”
Smith, 54, is a single mom with two teenage girls and an assortment of jobs: ski instructor, paralegal, Uber driver and working artist. She moved to the valley in 2018 and lives at a horse property on Broadford Road. When she was a kid, she learned to ride and started vaulting.
“It’s basically gymnastics on a horse,” she said. “The horse canters in a circle and you run along the lunge line and pull yourself up and do your moves, including head stands. You have to be ready to fall off a horse because you will.”
These days her goal is to succeed as a painter.
“Art is a big part of my life. I used to paint as a kid in the restaurants when we went to eat. The wait staff was kind enough to hang them up to give me a boost. I got more serious about it in my teens. Until I feel like I am telling the right story, the painting doesn’t feel finished.”
Smith works as a paralegal for a civil rights law firm in Oakland led by John Burris, who worked on the Rodney King case and made a name for himself in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Smith lived for 10 years.
“I’ve been trained to write lawsuits, do discovery and file motions. I once interviewed the parents of someone who was killed in a police shooting the day before. It can be very intense.”
Smith started directing theater in high school and earned a master’s degree in theater arts from the University of Montana. She became a sailor in Boston, living and working on tall ships, and worked as a choreographer and dance instructor.
“The last place I worked at was Sun Valley Ballet before they shut down,” she said. “My mother was also a single mom and was very supportive of my work in the arts.”
To make ends meet, she worked as an events planner in San Francisco and as a groom for the U.S. Park Police, “shoveling horse poop and training police horses, alongside the officers.”
The first job she took after landing in Sun Valley was lift operating at the resort. That year she had a bad crash that severely damaged her knee and leg, but months of rehab allowed her to join the ski school the following year.
“I’m very proud to become an instructor, but I also work to balance my other jobs with painting. I really want to focus on the arts and make a name for myself here.”
Smith homeschooled her girls until recently, stopping so they could have a wider circle of friends. Her spare time, if she can find any, is spent in the studio, where she hones her talents. She has sold several paintings recently through her online web site, and has prints made at Saddle Tree in Ketchum.
Some of her paintings also hang on the walls of restaurants, a habit that started when she was a young girl.
“I put some on the wall at KB’s Burritos in Ketchum and one sold,” she said.
But as her portfolio of work grows, so has her ambition. Her goal is to get gallery representation. This summer she expects to get more local exposure.
“I have a booth for this summer’s Ketchum Arts Festival,” she said.