Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Kathy Fincher is a Duluth-based children's pastel painter who recently won the Quintessence Award as the Best Painter in America by the Save the Arts Foundation. Her paintings are found in children's books, calendars, greeting cards as well as sculptures.
DULUTH — Kathy Fincher has been to the White House because of her art. But even that trip didn’t match the surprise she received recently.
Fincher’s most famous painting became well known in 2007 when she and her family traveled to the White House and the artist got to discuss the piece with President George W. Bush. Bush wanted to hear the story about her painting “The Dream Keeper” — a piece with seven children that was inspired after visiting Ground Zero. The painting now hangs in the George W. Bush Library.
While that was an amazing experience for the Duluth artist, a recent email awarding her the Quintessence Award as the Best Painter in America by the Save the Arts Foundation took her by surprise.
“Could you imagine getting an email, ‘Do you accept this nomination?’ I said, ‘No, they want money. They want something,’” she said about receiving the news.
The doubtful painter eventually called to see if the award ceremony and nomination were legit — and it was. Fincher said she is still in shock about the recognition.
“Could you imagine out of the blue winning a big award and being picked up by a limousine because somebody you never knew contacted you to say they decided that you were best artist in America?,” she said. “I’m pinching myself the whole time asking, ‘How did you find me?’”
There was a time when the best place to find Fincher was on skis — be it on snow or water. Before she became known for children’s art, she was a national water ski champion for Women’s Trick Skiing, representing the U.S. in Japan as a show skier with Tommy Bartlett Ski Spectacular. She skied in the Wisconsin Dells, at the World Trade Expo on the Navy Pier in Chicago as well as at Calloway Gardens and Lanier Islands.
“I did all that and my art was always on the back burner,” the pastel painter said. “It wasn’t until I had children that I started, but I studied art all along.”
Fincher grew up a tomboy, riding horses and playing with her four brothers, but she also attended art classes taught by her best friend’s mother, who had studied art at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
“Her mom used me as bait — and it worked. She went four times, I went for 20 years,” she said with a laugh.
Fincher married at age 33 and had two daughters. Since she couldn’t snap on her skis, she picked up a pastel stick.
“It wasn’t until after I had children that my mother and aunt said that they were meeting with an impressionist who works with pastels,” she said. “I said that was something I could do at home before I get back into my skiing, which was my plan, but I was never to get (back) into (skiing).”
Impressionism was something Fincher enjoyed for its spontaneous nature and she started drawing wildlife, then progressed to children.
“I started doing pastels impressionism with them and it’s just more of a natural medium,” she said. “It’s real impulsive. I only did wildlife. It was later when I started painting children.”
Her art can be seem in many places: children’s books, calendars, mugs, Bible covers, puzzles, greeting cards and more.
She’s also selling sculptures of her paintings.
“I’ve gone through spells that I’ve made a lot of paintings, but in the last 10 years, I’ve done more sculptures than paintings,” Fincher said. “Every night the sculptors send me a photograph of the clay and what they’ve done that day. I literally go on the computer fix it, switch it and work on it.”
With her most recent honor under her belt, Fincher plans to continue her art. Currently she is creating Western art with children with horses, straw hats and saddles.
“The thing I like about the Western art is that it is a different market,” she said. “They are more serious about their art than a regular customer. To be as well received as I have been is amazing.”
Another goal Fincher wants to accomplish is creating large pieces of public art.
In May, the Duluth artist is hosting an open house to meet the community, show off her studio and sell works of art.
For more information about Fincher’s artwork or to request an invitation to the May event, visit www.kathyfincher.com.