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Kathleen Veenstra is probably most well known for her many years of work with the Los Alamos Public Schools as a counselor, but fewer people are probably familiar with her as an artist.
Veenstra is a ceramicist/potter and also a fine artist, painting landscapes and portraits. When asked about how she was able to develop to a professional level in all three areas, Veenstra explained that her first love was art and the career as a counselor evolved somewhat circuitously from there.
Veenstra remembers painting as a child, encouraged by her father, a frustrated painter. She was proficient as a portrait painter by the time she entered college and had her first formal training. There, she discovered that the combination of feeling and light, which shape landscape paintings fulfilled her artistic desires. She went on to receive a master’s degree in studio art.
Veenstra began her career as an art professor at Trinity College in Chicago and then moved to New Mexico after marriage. Unable to find full-time work teaching art at the college level, she ended up taking a position in educational administration. Eventually, she realized she no longer had the interaction with students that had drawn her to work in education, so she went back to school and studied counseling, entering the field of community mental health in Santa Fe.
By the time her children entered school, she was a single mother, so finding a position with the schools was a logical career move. Veenstra also began work, counseling individuals with Family Council in Los Alamos. Now retired from the schools, Veenstra continues her private counseling practice and said she truly enjoys the extra time she has to focus on art.
Veenstra said she finds pottery, painting and counseling all compatible and complementary. “I think of art as my primary form of expression.”
With her counseling career, she said she helps others clarify their thought processes and find means of personal expression. Her work as a counselor “is very cerebral, as is painting.”
Painting can take a lot of thought and intellectual focus, so Veenstra relies on working with clay to help her unwind. She said the painting is much more challenging, requiring her to maintain awareness of her thought process. Shaping clay is a hands-on type of meditation.
In her painting, Veenstra works in oil. In her abstractions, she incorporates mixed media as the spirit moves her, letting the works evolve.She may bring in pastels, graphite, charcoal pencil, collage or watercolor to her canvases, grabbing whatever is close at hand.
After having focused on landscapes throughout most of her adult life, Veenstra decided seven or eight years ago, that she wanted to paint her grandchildren’s portraits. She was really dissatisfied with her initial attempts, but a couple of years ago pulled those canvases out of the closet and rediscovered portraiture. She has been studying Renaissance portraits to better understand their techniques as a way to improve her own.
Veenstra has a solo show in the Portal Gallery at Fuller Lodge Art Center. Her exhibit ran during the holiday Affordable Arts show and continues for two more weeks. She sells her pottery in the Gallery Gift Shop, so her Portal show is focused on her paintings. With a mixture of landscapes and portraits, the show demonstrates Veenstra’s skill with color and her affinity for pastel tones.
The Art Center will feature Veenstra in the Portal Gallery until Jan. 26. Visitors are welcome between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Veenstra’s virtual gallery is featured as a link at fullerlodgeartcenter.com.
After the Portal show closes, her work may be accessed through the archives page.