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Artist Laura Kinlock Finds Instruction and Peace at Arts Center East

If you walk into the art gallery at Apella Capital, a financial planning firm in Glastonbury, you can see an exhibit that features the works of five local artists. Amid the variety of paintings and pastels, Laura Kinlock’s landscapes and panoramas stand out. Ms. Kinlock, a retiree and resident of Stafford Springs, Conn., is a trained artist whose history with visual arts dates back to her college years. However, she did not have the experience or confidence to exhibit her works in shows or enter competitions until recently, when she began training at Arts Center East

For Ms. Kinlock, retirement was “life changing.” The Syracuse native had lived her whole life in upstate New York until her move three years ago to Stafford Springs. “It was the sort of event where I stopped working on a Friday and moved that Monday,” she said. The move to Connecticut went smoothly, but once she got to her new home she initially struggled without work to occupy her time. “I floundered,” she said. “I always judged my self worth based on work, and suddenly I didn’t have that anymore.”

Ms. Kinlock, 63, attended the State University of New York at Oswego, where she double majored in photography and art history, but after graduating she pursued a career in counseling, including some work for social services. After moving to Connecticut, she knew she needed a way to fill some of her newfound free time. She considered a number of volunteer positions, but did not find a good fit for her schedule or interests. While driving on Route 30 one day, an elephant sculpture on a lawn outside a white building caught her eye, and she saw a sign for Arts Center East, an organization located in Vernon, Conn. that provides a space for the enhancement of visual arts in the community. The center offers classes, sells works by local artists in their artisan shop, provides gallery and exhibition space, and hosts events and performances featuring music and theater. “I wasn’t familiar with the concept of a community arts center,” said Ms. Kinlock, “but I filed that idea away in the back of my mind.”

Canyon Musings, Grand Canyon National Park, 16×20

She did some research on the Internet before deciding to enroll in a pastel class with instructor Jane Penfield. It was not Ms. Kinlock’s first foray into pastels – she had tried learning the medium before and struggled without a teacher – but it proved her most successful. “Pastel is my first love,” she said, “and I really needed several years of solid instruction to get the hang of it.”

Ms. Kinlock has now been involved with Arts Center East for three years. After the first year of pastel classes she decided to try a second medium and enrolled in a watercolor class with instructor Elizabeth Parys. The following year she stopped taking pastel classes in order to be able to enter competitions. “At that point I felt good enough to go out on my own and enter juried shows,” she said, “which you really can’t do when you have a teacher critiquing your work.” She is still enrolled in the watercolor class, and also volunteers at the center. 

Over the past few years, art has become more than a hobby for Ms. Kinlock. It serves as an outlet, a form of reflection, a means of relaxation, and a fulfillment of a childhood dream. “I was greatly discouraged as a young person for pursuing a career in art. I really think I could’ve,” she said. “I have some sadness that I didn’t listen to myself and I listened to the naysayers – where would I be as an artist if I had forty years of experience behind me? But that’s why it’s so great to get another chance. It’s an affirming experience.”

While she did not pursue an art career out of college, Ms. Kinlock attributes her compositional ability to her studies at SUNY Oswego. “Photography taught me to compose,” she said. “And now I work from my own photos.” Although she is essentially recreating her own work through different mediums and forms, there have been some challenges that Ms. Kinlock has faced on her artistic journey at Arts Center East. During one instance, she struggled to paint a particularly complicated photograph that she had chosen to work from for its sentimental value. “I was less than a year into my studies at Arts Center East and I chose a photo, which was my husband and daughter at the Grand Canyon, with lots of different colors and depths to consider,” Ms. Kinlock said. “My teacher Jane said, ‘Well that’s very ambitious,’ which you can read into a lot of different ways,” she added with a laugh.

            With the help of her instructor, though, Ms. Kinlock was able to complete the piece and was pleased with the result. “For me, doing that painting was the first time I felt like I could master the medium and not just be a wannabe,” she said. Ms. Kinlock mainly focuses on landscapes, but likes to mix up the type of scene she paints and the type of paper she uses. She also paints portraits occasionally. She says she tends to “get bored” with artists that choose the same subject matter again and again.

            More than anything, though, Ms. Kinlock appreciates the way that making art forces her to focus on her own creativity and process, instead of worrying about the world around her. “I’ve had some very stressful things happen in my life with my family, and it’s really driving me crazy what’s happening in this country,” she said. “Art gives me solace – I can control it. Being able to disappear for a few hours and create is a lifesaver. It just feels good.” Over the past few years, Ms. Kinlock has sold some artwork through local shows and online, but profiting off of her work is not her priority. “I’m not interested in promoting myself as an artist or becoming commercial,” she said. “I prefer to think of it as my therapy.” She added jokingly, “Besides paying for materials, it would be way more expensive to actually go to therapy!”

There is Beauty in Decay, 12×16 Pastel, UArt 500 with inktense underpainting

Ms. Kinlock emphasized how Arts Center East has helped improve not only her technique but her mentality as an artist. “In college I had a tremendous amount of angst and I would tear up my artwork if I didn’t like it,” she said. She no longer destroys an attempt that doesn’t look the way she had hoped. “I think fretting over it prevents you from actually doing it. It’s just a piece of paper. If it’s terrible you can do it over,” she said, “or you can put it in a show anyway and someone else will find value in it because they like the way it looks more than you do.”

            With the help of her instructors at Arts Center East, Ms. Kinlock has shown her work in a few local exhibits. Last summer, she sold seven works from a show at Stafford Coffee Co. in Stafford Springs, and her current exhibit in Glastonbury is on exhibit until the end of the summer. She has sold three pieces so far. She has also sold a number of works online through her Facebook page. 

            Ms. Kinlock’s time at Arts Center East has made her appreciate the variety of arts opportunities that Connecticut offers. In her experience, the state has made more investments in community exposure and engagement with the arts than she has witnessed in other places she has lived. She urges residents to take advantage of their local art offerings, and takes care to do so herself. Most of all, however, she appreciates how Arts Center East has helped her grow as a person. “It’s really spectacular,” she said. “I feel like I can call myself an artist.”

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