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"Make yourself at home." The pleasant young woman points to a loveseat in a small room. "This is the best way to appreciate Thomas Kinkade's genius as an artist."

My wife and I have happened upon Collector's Corner Gallery on the village square in Pella, Iowa. Collector's Corner, it turns out, is a furniture store that also sells lithographs and paintings, many of them by Kinkade, a kind of neo-Impressionist artist who bills himself as the "Painter of Light." I make some offhand, dismissive comment to the effect that these lithographs are mass-produced for people who buy paintings to coordinate with the colors of the living-room sofa.

Melissa Slings, whose business card reads "Art Consultant," gently disagrees and proceeds to offer an impromptu mini-course that might be called "Thomas Kinkade Appreciation 101." Anyone who deals in Kinkade's lithographs goes through a special training program to become a sales consultant, and she is prepared to, well, enlighten us.

Lesson one commences in the tiny, carpeted cubicle with the loveseat. A large, framed lithograph of Kinkade's Lamplight Bridge hangs directly in front of us.

"Just sit back and relax," Slings instructs, "and look at the painting."
She reaches for the dial of a rheostat, which controls the track lighting in the small room. "Watch as the light dims," she says, "and you'll see the painting take on its own glow. It's like magic."

As the light wanes, the canvas assumes a kind of luminosity. The street lamps glow from atop their stanchions on the gentle arc of a stone bridge, and the cottage radiates a soft, buttery light from its mullioned windows. The effect is soothing and dreamlike, and in my reverie I have no difficulty imagining the residents of that cottage in denims, ...

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December 4, 2000

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