Exhibits at Friday’s art walk are not just a retrospective of one Hays artist’s life, but also a display of the continuance art educators create.
The Hays Arts Center, 112 E. 11th, will feature “Kathleen Kuchar: A Journey,” a retrospective of the long-time Fort Hays State University art professor’s work.
Salon Ten-O-Seven, 1007 Main, will feature more of Kuchar’s work in “Celebrating Kathleen,” and the HAC Annex, 1010 Main, will feature the works of Kuchar’s mentor in “Art from the Attic: Eugene 'Skip' Harwick and the 60s and 70s,” a show curated by Mick Jilg, who also taught at FHSU and whom Kuchar called one of her best friends. Jilg will also have an exhibit of paintings and photographs with Leon J. Staab at Regeena’s Flowers, 1013 Main.
“It’s not just a career retrospective, it is a life. It’s Kathleen’s story through art,” Brenda Meder, director of the Hays Arts Council, said of the HAC’s exhibit.
Kuchar will also present a talk on her work and career at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Hays Arts Center. She also has published a companion book to the exhibition, which will be on sale at the center.
Kuchar got a sneak peek Wednesday of the exhibit as designed and hung by Meder in the arts center.
“Woooooah!” she exclaimed as she entered the back gallery of the center, seeing her colorful works against the gallery’s black walls.
“I’m just so taken back in a way. You just don’t … to see your history before your eyes, it’s so amazing. Sometimes I think, ‘Did I really do all that?’ ” Kuchar said.
Kuchar began selecting works for the show a year ago, after Meder approached her with the idea. The works range from her first drawings as a young girl to a large painting she just completed Monday, a half hour before delivering it to the HAC.
She began, she said, with a dry-erase board, writing down each decade and deciding which works best represented each.
The 1980s probably were her most productive years, she said. It was a time where she worked with lots of color, had a big show and traveled to California on sabbatical with her parents, the three of them in a camper van.
But it soon became a time of sorrow, as just a year after the sabbatical, her father was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1983.
“That period, my artwork changed considerably,” she said.
She points to one piece on the back gallery wall as an example. Dark clouds appear to be raining tears on a tombstone-like object with a vibrant red broken-heart image.
“I did a whole series, I called them a healing series,” she said.
As much as the exhibit is about her life, it is also about those she credits with the opportunity for a life in art.
“I looked back at my career when I was getting ready for this show, and there was all these people that kept cropping up,” she said.
“You’ve got to have people in your life that you can count on and help you and inspire you,” she said.
Growing up on a farm in Meadow Grove, Neb., Kuchar attended a one-room country school. Her teacher would allow her to go outside and sketch when she finished her schoolwork.
The high school she would later attend had no art program, but when she was 14 in 1956, a cousin encouraged her to enter a “draw me” contest found in a comic book. The contest was from the Art Instruction Schools of Minneapolis, Min., which is still in operation, and soon a salesman visited their farm with an offer to enroll Kuchar in their correspondence course.
Her father agreed, and Kuchar began the courses. She still has the contract, payment records, grades and letters from her instructors, which are displayed in a notebook in the exhibition.
Kuchar received a four-year, fully paid art scholarship to Kearney State College, where she credits her teacher Jack Karraker, an FHSU alumnus, for steering her to Hays to get her master’s degree after she taught high school in Minden, Neb., establishing its arts program.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jack,” she said. Just last week, she tracked him down in a Kearney assisted living center to thank him.
At then Fort Hays Kansas State College, Kuchar became Harwick’s first graduate student.
“He taught me a lot more about being a professional artist and how to paint from your soul,” she said.
He also encouraged her to enter a scholarship competition from the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, which she won.
“After I got my master’s in ’66, I loaded up my old Nash Rambler and headed to New York,” she said.
She spent a year in New York City, riding the subway for an hour to get to the school from her apartment. Included in the exhibit is her sketchbook from that time, with drawings and notes from classes and her rides on the subway, some of which became paintings.
Before she left New York, Joel Moss, then the art department chair at Fort Hays, called her with a job offer. She taught at FHSU from 1967 to 2001.
But she didn’t just teach. Through the years, she was also a student, first to obtain her master of fine arts at Wichita State University. She would teach four days a week and then attend a Thursday night and Friday morning class at WSU for nearly four years.
Through her 34 years at FHSU, she continued to learn new media and tools and establishing its graphic design program, where she taught Chaiwat Thumsujarit and then convinced him to stay and teach.
In 1985, Thorns, realizing computers on campus were inevitable even for the art department, sent her to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York to learn about them. Her first computer-generated piece from that workshop is in the HAC exhibit.
In 1991, Jilg suggested she learn monotype, and she spent a month in Florence, Italy, doing so.
Just as she credits others with her fortunes in her career, Kuchar said she has heard from her former students who say they owe her for their careers.
“It’s so exciting,” she said of getting that feedback.
“You had no idea at the time what you said or how you worded something or how you encourage them, if it made any difference at all,” she said.
Two of her former students who plan to attend Friday’s reception became art teachers themselves.
“It’s a snowball. That’s what great about teaching. It just keeps going. It’s exciting,” she said.
Kuchar plans to keep going, too.
Among the works in the HAC exhibit is a singular sculpture, a liturgical piece of found objects.
Kuchar said she never really did much sculpture in her career, but maybe she’ll learn to do more.
“I’m only 76, I’ve got time,” she said.