The Kinkade Crusade
"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, flannel shirts, and thick wool stockings stretched out in front of the fireplace, a favorite novel in one hand and a mug of steaming cider in the other, a yellow Lab at their feet and a Brandenburg Concerto playing softly in the background.
Slings goes on to explain the elaborate coding that goes into every Kinkade painting. Kinkade includes a Bible reference and a fish (ichthus) with his signature, and he imbeds the letter N at least once on every canvas in honor of his wife's name, Nanette. Occasionally the names and images of his four daughters or the visage of a friend will appear.
Placerville to Paradise
William Thomas Kinkade was reared in a single-parent household in Placerville, California, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As early as age 4, he showed artistic promise. His mother encouraged him. Young Thom Kinkade would disappear for hours with his sketchbook and return with drawings of the natural beauty all around him.
"My whole life was absorbed with my art," Kinkade recalled many years later. "I was known by my schoolmates as the kid who could draw."
By his teen years he had discovered oils and worked as an apprentice to Glenn Wessells, a California Impressionist in the 1940s and 1950s.
Kinkade studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, although he dropped out of both schools.
Kinkade, in his own words, "came to have a personal relationship with Christ" in 1980, while a student. His mother had reared him in the Church of the Nazarene, but an adolescent rebellion turned him away from evangelicalism. His involvement with Calvary Chapel in the early 1980s reconnected him to the faith of his childhood.