Thomas Kinkade exhibit at OSU explores artistic process, humanitarian work

painting by Thomas Kinkade

Sunset Over Riga (Latvia) by Thomas Kinkade

While the late artist Thomas Kinkade is mainly associated with paintings of English country scenes, he had a strong connection with Corvallis through longtime friend, fellow artist Charles Kelley.

Now, with Kelley’s help, one of the first major showings of Kinkade’s work since his death will take place at The La Sells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus, Feb. 23 through March 15.

Kelley is the founder and leader of the charity Bridge Builders International, a Christian gospel-focused evangelical organization based in Philomath that primarily does work in Latvia. Kelley and Kinkade met in 2003 and began a friendship that extended throughout Kinkade’s life. In 2004, Kinkade and his family traveled to Latvia through Bridge Builders International to offer a children’s art camp, and at that time Kinkade began painting Latvian scenes.

“His love for art went hand in hand with his passion for life and commitment to help those in need,” Kelley said. “He and Nanette have always been extremely generous with their resources, helping countless people, organizations and humanitarian causes.  When they have seen needs they have wanted to respond.”

Kinkade’s family says that through his work, he was able to raise more than $10 million for a variety of charitable causes.

Now on the board of the Kinkade Family Foundation, Kelley and Kinkade’s wife and daughters are helping further Kinkade’s dual interests in art and humanitarianism. The exhibit at OSU, titled “What Will Last,” aims to capture both those aspects of Kinkade’s life.

“OSU’s exhibit is unique because every piece in the show is hand selected by the Kinkade family,” said Thomas’ daughter Chandler Kinkade. “By doing this we are able to shed light on how our dad worked as an artist and where his inspiration came from.

“Providing the exhibit with personal photos of our dad creating plein airs (outdoor paintings) on site, original sketches demonstrating the progression from idea to published oil prints, and stories illustrating how our dad’s humanitarian passion influenced his art allows the audiences to better understand our dad’s immensely detailed and comprehensive creative process, which in turn allows them to better understand who he was.”

Kinkade’s art, which continues to be commercially successful, allowed him to pursue his family’s interest in philanthropy.

“Because Thom recognized the power of leveraged help he began creating paintings for causes that he believed in and he then donated high-quality giclee’ lithographic prints of these special paintings to these organizations to be used to fund emergencies, scholarships, projects or even operating expenses,” Kelley said. “In this way, he could do what he loved…paint…and combine it with his entrepreneurial bent…multiply his paintings…and literally see millions upon millions of dollars help causes that he loved. More than $10 million was raised for charity in this way, more than any other known artist.”

The exhibit captures some of the process that Kinkade went through when creating a painting. His daughter Merritt Kinkade said inspiration could strike at any time.

“Whether we were on a walk in the neighborhoods or sitting at a local diner, my dad would take out his tiny notepad that fit in his front pocket and start sketching,” she recalled. “He would write words alongside the images so that later he could embellish the concept for a full studio piece.

“From there he would rip the sketch out of his notepad and tape it next to his easel. Then he’d hunt through hundreds of books in his studio library to find ‘scrap’ images of flowers, trees or dogs to include in his masterpiece.”

Her father worked from early morning until dinner time, and would sometimes return later to continue working on a piece. His wife Nanette said she cherished the times when her husband would work plein air. Then she would often sit with him and chat, or paint herself, while he worked. There will be some plein air pieces in the OSU exhibit.

Kelley said the exhibit will help viewers gain a broader view of an already well-known artist.

“He was an artistic genius and avid reader and idea-generating machine,” Kelley said. “He was extremely interested in art history, business, marketing, international affairs, the Christian faith, old cars and even inventing. Even though he succumbed to significant life struggles, what he pursued, the values he embraced and stood for make up things that truly last.”

A reception will be held from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, in the Giustina Gallery. Members of Kinkade’s family are scheduled to attend.

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