An artist who is passionate about her work, Kirkpatrick always knew her love of art would play some sort of role in her life.
“I guess it’s kind of like when ministers say they were called. There was never really a moment [when it began],” Kirkpatrick said. “It just always was there. As a child, I loved art. I had a grandmother who encouraged me, and I had my paint sets.”
Though art classes were not available in the public schools Kirkpatrick attended when she was young, she continually sought new chances to learn, at one point taking an art class that met once a week at Wesley Memorial United Church.
“That was their [her parents’] way to let me have some study in it,” she said. “They encouraged it.”
That childhood love also became a potential career for her as she began studying art in college. Kirkpatrick earned an associate of arts in commercial art and illustration at North Virginia Community College, going on to also receive a bachelor of arts in painting from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a master of fine arts in graphics and printmaking from George Washington University.
Her work is greatly influenced by the cultures of the places she lived in and traveled to overseas. Her husband, Ken Kirkpatrick, served in the U.S. Navy, and the couple traveled widely, living in Japan and Tunisia for two years each.
“A lot of my work is influenced by the patterns and textures of Asian art, the Arabic and the asymmetrical compositions of the Japanese — patterns and colors from those cultures,” she said.
Ken and Jennie were also raising a son and daughter who both learned to have an appreciation for art while they were living overseas.
“We always took them to museums and tried to expose them to everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “They both have sort of a feel for design and color.”
Kirkpatrick also taught in schools in addition to helping her own children learn. She taught art in many cities in the U.S. and abroad, working at elementary and junior high schools in her early years of teaching as well as later working with high school students.
After moving back to Tennessee and earning her master’s degree, Kirkpatrick began a career as a college professor, teaching on an adjunct basis at UTC, Tennessee Wesleyan College, Cleveland State Community College and, most recently, Lee University.
Kirkpatrick is now taking time to focus on her own painting.
“My husband has been very supportive, and he’s a good critic.” Kirkpatrick said. “I couldn’t accomplish as much as I do without his helping.”
Kirkpatrick often advises those who are considering whether or not to pursue an art-related career to make sure they know about all their options within the trade before jumping into it.
“There’s a lot of different directions you can take — teaching is just one of them,” Kirkpatrick said.
However, she also cautions artists to think through their financial needs when beginning an art career.
“It’s not easy to make a living painting paintings,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a matter of a lot of preparation.”
When she first started college, her father insisted she should not study just art.
“He said, ‘No, you don’t major in art, you major in business,’” Kirkpatrick said. “I took enough business courses to satisfy him and took art all along. You have to be a business person as well as a painter. I think he was very wise to insist on that.”
While she loves painting for the sake of her own enjoyment, Kirkpatrick said she has created some of the paintings she has because the subjects meant something to her.
“Each one has its own story,” Kirkpatrick said.
One experience that made it from her memory to her paintbrush was seeing a U.S. soldier holding two small teddy bears while waiting for a flight in an airport terminal. While creating the resulting painting, titled “Heading Home,” she pondered where he was going and who he was going to see.
Sometimes, the stories behind her paintings have hit closer to home.
One instance arose on a trip with daughter’s parents-in-law in France. She took a photo of the father-in-law who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and later painted him. He passed away about a month ago, and the painting has meant a lot to his family, Kirkpatrick said.
“It was one of those times we were having a good time and snapped a photograph that later turned out to be more memorable than you thought at the time,” she said.
Kirkpatrick often paints from photos she takes, whether they be of simple things like tree branches or of memorable events. Many of them are scattered over a table in her studio, a sunroom attached to her home.
“Something prompts me to take a photograph,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for.”
Often, Kirkpatrick likes to include her family in her paintings. Some of her favorite subjects are her grandchildren, she said.
“A lot of my works are people that I’m close to,” Kirkpatrick said.
The subjects of her paintings have varied along with the types of painting she has done.
While she has primarily worked with watercolors, Kirkpatrick also did silkscreen printmaking and took a 15-year “diversion” into painting murals and decorative wall finishes with a studio in downtown Cleveland.
Her latest project is a collection of abstract watercolor paintings featuring colorful shapes and designs.
“This show is a series that I’ve done that are brightly colored shapes that are abstracts. It’s fun to paint, and it’s fun to do the designs,” Kirkpatrick said. “What I’m doing in this instance in concentrating more on putting colors together than having a particular story to tell about a place or incident.”
Kirkpatrick opened her collection as the featured artist for the month of April at the In-Town Gallery in Chattanooga. For more information, visit www.intowngallery.com or call 267-9214. She also shows her work at the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland and the Athens Arts Center in Athens.