“I am the youngest of five kids. My brother, Pete, had muscular dystrophy and he was a big influence in my life. My older siblings remember him running and playing. But he was nine years older than me and I don’t remember him not being in a wheelchair. It was an honor caring for him, but in the moment you don’t realize how special some things are. He was 25 when he died and there were 1500 people at his funeral. He was one of those rare people who could lift your spirits without saying anything. I think about him every day and wear a bracelet with his name. Losing Pete was hard. I felt like the best part of me was dead. But I didn’t want to feel selfish about him going to heaven. I am 31 and still trying to get back to the best person I can be, but I was that best person when he was around. My kids are now the best of me.
This is Pete Week. He would have been 40 years old yesterday. My family is scattered around the country, but we get together every year to celebrate him. I hate missing Pete Week this year. In 2013, the night before my wedding, I had an exhibit of 11 portraits at the Mobile Arts Council of people who influenced me. One of those was Pete. Painting him felt like he was with me. My whole family was in town and they saw what I did and they saw Pete. He was a part of the wedding. A portrait of my Pop was there, too.
Art started with Pop, my grandfather. He fought in WW2 in the South Pacific and passed his time drawing portraits of famous actresses or women he saw on magazine covers. One Christmas, I got a sketch pad and Pop had drawn Santa on the front page. When I opened it up, he said Santa left a self-portrait in my sketch pad. I still have it. My mother was a high school art teacher and an art historian. She’s able to build and fix most things. She was my Pop’s only daughter, and I look up to her the same way she looked up to him. She and my dad told me that I could do anything with my life, including art. And I believed them.
When I was a little girl going to church with my family, Father Carmen was our priest. I still carry his words with me. He said there are two questions he imagined God will ask when we get to heaven: What did you do with the talents I gave you? What did you do with the people I put in your life? That is how I live my life.
I grew up in Williamstown, New Jersey, and went to Spring Hill College because I wanted a school with small class sizes and they gave me the most scholarship money. I had never been this far South, but it was the best experience. I met my husband and friends who became family and never left Mobile.
I majored in art, but I wasn’t good at seeing an image in my head and putting it on the page. I work from photographs as a reference for composition. Color and perspective is where my creativity comes in. I am working on being abstract in my composition, but it doesn’t come as naturally. I was intimidated by a blank canvas before I learned how to paint. Wanda Sullivan was my painting teacher at Spring Hill and said if you know how to draw, you can paint. That eased my nerves. I have also gotten into wood burning because a friend did it. I liked it so much that I started doing it on my own.
I want to work in art therapy, but I am a mother of a one-year-old and a three-year-old, so maybe that will happen later. There are ideas that I want to put on canvas or to burn on wood, but I get frustrated because there is not enough time. Then I realize how amazing it is to be with my kids, and I am right where I need to be. My new house is painted in earth tones for calming with a bib pop of color here and there. I think that is subconsciously my personality. I have my studio at Central Presbyterian Church and my art is influenced by the other artists who create there.
This summer, I painted my first outdoor mural on the wall at Central Presbyterian. I wanted the mural to spread positivity in a big way with big colors. I also wanted to work with local kids and show them that art can make an impact on their community and what they can do through art. Then Coronavirus happened and we couldn’t work with kids. Wanda, my painting teacher from Spring Hill, put out a call and said if you feel like black lives matter, come do something positive with those feelings. The mural was never about that, but it became a part of it. To be painting hands of different colors embracing during all of the protest and unrest felt like I was standing up for something. I am honored it changed direction that way. We couldn’t hug, but I was painting people embracing. I had nothing to do with that. It was God.
Mobile has been a blessing to me. You can quickly make an impact here. Give to it, and it will give back to you. Local art brings life to a city, and local artists should be involved in city planning. A coat of paint can change anything. There is an army of artists here with so much talent. I am excited about what art can do in Mobile.
I’m proud that I am making art as a professional artist and grateful to use the gifts that God gave me to make things with my hands that affect other people in a positive way. Things that will hopefully be passed down for generations. Spreading love and positivity through art is the most precious gift, besides my children, that I’ll ever have.”
Kathleen Kirk Stoves
Kathleen is selling limited edition prints of 4 views of the “Love All” mural to benefit the Food Pantry at Central. Each $14 print sold will buy 50lbs of food for those in need! You can buy them here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/854905135/limited-edition-5×7-print-of-the-love?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=KmkirkART&ref=sr_gallery-1-1&organic_search_click=1