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A light for all to see

Thomas Kinkade has reached millions with his paintings. On Sunday, he'll visit two bay area malls that have his galleries.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001

Thomas Kinkade is on the telephone from his northern California studio, a renovated 1930 cottage he calls Ivy Gate, explaining his role in the art world:

"There are many artists whose art is born out of pain. One artist I read about recently dismembered baby dolls, sprayed them with paints and hung them up on the wall in disfigured poses. You know, that would convey a message to someone of a pessimistic, angst-ridden mindset."

Kinkade, who will be in the Tampa Bay area this weekend, is not like that.

As the signs on his galleries -- many in major malls -- remind visitors, he is "The Painter of Light."

"There is much darkness in the world," Kinkade says. "But someone lights a candle and lets it shine, the whole room can be filled with light and darkness will go away.

"My work is simply an attempt to let my light shine in some small way to brighten the corner in people's lives."

By the hundreds, fans write to him. His sentimental landscapes saved them from suicide, reunited their families, lifted their spirits, they tell him.

"A lighthouse in the midst of a sea, they (fans) see courage through storms, a desire to fight through life's circumstances," Kinkade says.

What does it matter that San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker calls his work "naive," "clumsy" and "cheesy," sentiments echoed by many other critics?

Says Kinkade: "I have managed to touch a nerve in the American public with the kind of paintings I create and as a result of that, millions and millions of people have had their lives impacted in some small way."

Among his fans are Kathie Lee Gifford and Robert Wagner. He has 4,000 galleries in malls nationwide, prints that sell from $500 to $25,000 and merchandise branded with his images of thatched roof cottages and cobblestone bridges. Among the items for sale: jigsaw puzzles, blankets, lamps, wallpaper borders, plates, pillows, mugs, candles, planters, books, magnets, compact discs (piano music by Tom Howard inspired by Kinkade) and now, La-Z-Boy recliners, $699, in 85 tapestries.

His company, born in his garage 10 years ago, is now on the New York Stock Exchange and worth about $15-million.

Out of warehouses in San Jose, employees print and custom-frame as many as 1,000 canvases a day, which are then sent to franchised galleries.

He himself touches up -- with strokes of amber and white paint -- the lithograph prints that sell in the $20,000 range. An entirely original piece, which can take him 250 to 500 hours to complete, can fetch $300,000.

He appears on QVC and tours the nation. His appearance in Tampa Bay is one of 20 stops this weekend.

Kinkade, 42, grew up in the California mountain town of Placerville. He dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, bummed around the country for a while and then painted backgrounds for animated films before opening galleries.

His paintings are like little movies, he says. And he is the movie director.

"I create the lighting. I take my props and shuffle them around."

Most are landscapes pulled totally from his imagination, thus the fuzzy, dreamlike quality that seems to glow from the chapel by the brook or the cabin by the sea. His color choice is heavy on the lavenders and greens.

Kinkade, whose parents are divorced, packages many of his prints and merchandise with Christian family values messages and passages from the Bible. He picks titles such as Bridge of Faith, Petals of Hope, Garden of Prayer.

He married his childhood sweetheart. Her initial N (for Nanette) is hidden in many of his prints. He has four daughters, ages 3 to 12, all home-schooled, all discouraged from watching TV -- "too commercial," he says.

Kinkade sold his first painting, a sailboat on the water, at age 11 at art camp for $7.50.

"I priced it at what I thought was an astronomical price," he said. "And sure enough this woman bought it."

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.


Thomas Kinkade makes guest appearances at Brandon TownCenter at 2 p.m. and at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

He will share his philosophy of life, do a sketch to be auctioned for charity, and give away the book Lightpost for Living to the couple married the longest and the person with the most children. Free. Seating limited.

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