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‘Art by faith’

Cassie Pence
Special to the Daily "Heavenly Peony," by Katherine McNeill.
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BEAVER CREEK – There once was a man so deeply affected by the magic of Katherine McNeill’s oil paintings that he offered to pay for her art classes.McNeill, a self-taught artist, graciously accepted the stranger’s gift and drove 150 miles roundtrip from Woodland Park to Denver to study under Lloyd Thorsten, who taught her to paint aspens – a subject for which she is now famous. “It was absolutely incredible,” McNeill said of the gesture. “My husband and I were struggling in a business of our own, raising our children, I was astounded that someone would do that for me. He was just a dear man that gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.”And they say opportunity only knocks once …

Again struggling financially, McNeill went back to work to put her kids through school, and painting was pushed to the back corner of the hobby closet. But the company, who had seen her art accidentally, decided to buy a piece for its new location in downtown Denver. When she delivered the painting, the company’s president was so impressed he commissioned eight more paintings.”That morning, the president called me into his office and said, ‘I can’t believe you can’t make a living painting,'” McNeill said. The president then offered to pay for her unemployment so she could stay at home and paint. McNeill was suddenly a full-time artist again, teaching herself new techniques and evolving her style.”I have many stories that are faith related,” McNeill said. “My artwork is a ministry. All the adversities in my life, there is always a positive side. This is what god wanted me to do.”

Faith shines through in McNeill’s vivid oil paintings. There’s a mystical aura in her aspens and mountains, and viewers can easily lose themselves in the natural settings. McNeill and her husband trek through the wilderness of Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen searching for a feeling, McNeill said. She’s looking for shadows, inspiration, a backlit group of trees. They take digital photographs of the setting to bring back to the studio, where McNeill interprets the landscape on very large canvasses.”It’s another sense of god’s presence. His paintbrush. He’s got a wonderful paintbrush, and I’m just trying to relay that on canvas for others to feel and see,” McNeill said.McNeill’s career is booming, and finally, she is a full-time artist. Recently, she was approached to have her original work published nationwide, and she is writing a book. “Art by Faith” will chronicle her art career and tell how faith has played such an important role in her success. This weekend, she visits C. Anthony Gallery in Beaver Creek for an artist reception today and Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.”It’s all about never giving up,” McNeill said. “If you have something you love, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, you can’t make a living at it. Have faith in yourself and never lose that faith in yourself. Work hard and be the very best you can be.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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