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Doug Kinnett: A portrait of the artist

By Staff | Oct 9, 2009

Doug Kinnett Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

Have you ever walked through a gallery only to have a piece of art leap from the wall and joyously assault your senses? It might not be to your usual taste, you might not have ever heard of the artist but there it is, and in one instant you’re hooked. You can’t look away even if you wanted to, and you don’t want to.

Taste in art is subjective. Unfortunately, from earliest years, we’re influenced by historians and modern day critics’ opinions of what’s “good.” We’re told what artists we should revere and to appreciate artists whose work we might secretly find ridiculous or repulsive. Yes, personal taste in art is subjective but more often than not it’s influenced by outside forces and that’s too bad. Surrendering to your inner voice is a lot more fun. My rule of thumb toward art is simple: If it makes me happy, it’s great. That is why a recent afternoon in the Manna Machine Studio with resident artist Doug Kinnett was such a delight. There, hanging, leaning and sitting on the floor was a world of art. Every piece radiating joy and for that, I loved them.

Douglas Andrew Kinnett was born and raised in Chicago in the 50’s, the younger of George and Elizabeth Kinnett’s two children. Brother David was the older.

Col. George L. Kinnett was career army and a scholar, with a BA in math from Indiana U., and two Masters Degrees, one in math and one in military science, from Purdue, he spent his life in public service, serving in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam at the forefront of the military’s transition to computer science. On duty, he studied and worked at MIT, Cal Tech and the University of Illinois. He was also stationed overseas. “My Dad’s work was with computers that filled buildings and it was all classified. “Said Doug Kinnett. “When he retired in 1976 people were just starting to use PCs. “

While at an Indiana U. professor’s dinner party, George met a lovely Oberlin grad, Elizabeth Jean Hufford. “My mother had a BA and MA English Literature from Oberlin and was a violinist in the Oberlin Conservatory. She taught before WWII at Hanover College in Indiana and during the war she read servicemen’s mail for the Library of Congress.” Elizabeth was an amazing woman, brilliant and ahead of her time, who wrote short stories, poetry, screen plays and published the novel, Years of Mourning.

A real match for the over-achieving George Kinnett, Elizabeth finally said “I will” and they were married in 1948. In 1952, George was stationed in China and the Army arranged for Elizabeth to join him on furlough. “It was the only time in her life my mother was ever on a plane. She flew to China and back to Chicago and nine months later I was born.”

The Kinnetts settled in Hampton, Va., with, as Doug says, “the rest of the Tidewater Military Industrial Complex.” Military and technical blood running through his veins notwithstanding, Doug enrolled in Shepherd University to major in arts education to concentrate on painting and art history. He knew from the beginning where his passions and talent lay.

The early seventies was an interesting time to be in college. With Watergate and Viet Nam swirling around them, co-eds’ loathing of the “Establishment” was tossing thousands off-track. No so Doug Kinnett. Concerned and involved he was from a perspective rooted on the left, never the less he graduated in ’73 Cum Laude and with the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award. The class of ’73 at Shepherd heard their graduation address delivered by controversial columnist, Jack Andersen.

There were no education jobs when I graduated so Doug took a job with a survey company and continuing creating on his own time. “All the while, my Dad kept asking ‘what are you going to do with your life?” What he did was finance masters study at WVU with his paintings and when he graduated in ’75 it was at the top of his class with an award for outstanding thesis.

Meanwhile, brother Bob was focusing on journalism. With a MA from Indiana, another from Iowa and a third from Wisconsin, Bob found his passion at the Iowa Historical Society as a photo archivist.

Doug moved on to Marshall University Graduate School in Charleston and earned a masters in educational administration. He again worked his way through and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. The show-off.

One of the best jobs Doug says he ever had was right out of grad school in the Mason City, Iowa school district. “I loved that job. Every week I’d travel around to three grade schools working out of my old Plymouth Fury. It was crammed with art supplies for my classes and I taught 1,300 students every week.”

Alas, the lure of a college prep private boarding school was too strong to resist and Doug left his 1,300 fledgling artists in Iowa for Shattuck School/St. Mary Hall/St. James School in Fairbault, MI and the artistic world of teenagers.

Two masters in arts/education didn’t satisfy Doug, so he enrolled in the doctoral program at Illinois State University in Bloomington, IL and graduated with distinction and a nomination for an NAEA Outstanding Dissertation Award. Next up in his teaching career – Eastern Illinois State University and then Wichita State University both as an assistant professor.

It was in Wichita that Doug met Karen Hacker. By now Doug was divorced and a single father with sole custody his four year old son, Dylan. He was not at all interested in the fix-up proposed by a mutual friend from Friends church. “She kept inviting me to dinner to meet this girl Karen and I kept begging off. Finally she brought her to a church meeting. I took one look at Karen and felt like kicking myself for wasting so much time. “

Karen Hacker was an Iowa girl – Decorah, Iowa – the daughter of a middle school teacher and a partner in Hacker and Nelson Accountants. Karen majored in accounting at the University of Iowa. Of this Doug said proudly. “She finished a five year program in four years and passed the CPA exam on the first try.”

Doug accepted a teaching position at Shepherd U. and within a year Doug and Karen were married and Doug, Karen and Dylan settled down in a little house at the end of Church St. near Shepherdstown Elementary School. They discovered the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, and became fully integrated members of their new community. Young Dylan, true to his gene pool, showed promise as a writer from the first and it flourished at home and at St. Maria Garetti High School, a college prep school in Hagerstown. He then went off to Maryville College in Knoxville TN to major in creative writing and communications. (Today he’s editor of the literary journal, Infinity’s Kitchen and arts writer for the Baltimore’s Walters Museum.)

While Doug was happily working his way up as a tenured professor and chairman of the art education department at Shepherd, Karen was working her way to Flurry & Slick CPA in Hagerstown. (The firm is now Flurry, Slick and Kinnett.) She was also burning up the golf courses all over the region and the country. She was invited to represent West Virginia in The Virginias VS The Carolinas tourney more than once. At Cress Creek she’s became legendary, winning time after time. “She could have turned pro.” said her proud husband. Yes, life was good.

Then in 1995, it started with a pain between his shoulders. The pain eventually spread throughout Doug’s body, the cause of which baffled the best doctors. Finally it was diagnosed it as Fibromyalgia, then Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome was added and finally Neurally Mediated Hypotension. Each disease, each condition is a debilitating one. It’s difficult to imagine what having all three is like.

“I was bone tired all the time, my heart and blood pressure were erratic I’d faint without warning, I had trouble walking, the pain was constant and I wasn’t thinking straight.” It soon became clear to Doug that he’d have to give up what he’d worked so long and hard to get. “So many times my colleagues at Shepherd would have to step in and help pull my load and that wasn’t fair to them.” So he retired his position as tenured professor and chairman of the art department at.

As it’s been explained, healing and curing are two very different things. There isn’t a cure for what Doug has. Though nothing has gotten worse it hasn’t gotten better.

However, Doug’s healing has progressed by leaps and bounds. His work has taken on a different approach “more immediate and spontaneousa lot more letting go and trusting.”

As Karen said in a Dr. K’s Manna Machine (adapted from a case study written on CFIDS,) “One day I arrived home from a prayer meeting with Randy Tremba to find Doug working on an extraordinary painting, one of the first in his floral series, Height Asbury Ease. The painting was bright and cheerful. It seemed ironic that someone suffering with so much pain and debilitating fatigue could paint with such exuberance. His art seemed to nourish his spirit, just as manna from God fed the Israelites in the desert. As Randy said that afternoon, ‘When you least expect it, God provides us with the nourishment we need to survive.”

Manna Machine Studio is housed in a wonderful home out on Howard Farm Road. The Kinnetts turned to their friend David Kimmitzer to capture their minds eye picture of perfection. For Karen it was an Ohio farmhouse married to a New York loft. Kimmitzer is one brilliant architect and he got it just right and more. It’s wonderful outside and in and no one is more pleased than Karen and Doug Kinnett. For those who have seen this house you definitely should. It’s multi colored board ‘n batten barnwall masterpiece that ambles along a knoll on a hill overlooking a horse farm. It’s surrounded by nature and there’s this huge, boulder balancing act going on near the drive. David designed front galleries instead of foyers, wide spaces, high ceilings with huge windows, and a kitchen to die for. “The kitchen was Karen’s idea.” said Doug. “I have this thing about Mondrian and had just completed Piet’s Patio. Karen loved it so much she wanted to keep it and design our kitchen around it. ” Piet’s Patio has a Mondrian backdrop with a Kinnett floral overlay. The kitchen in question is all white walls, a stainless sub zero, a white oven, a red dishwasher and the floor is pure Mondriancolors, designeverything. Piet’s Patio hangs at the end of the long room. A Kinnett table with tiles beneath. Karen is her husband’s biggest fan and it shows. From Doug’s studio and furniture workshop on the lower level, to his hand painted tiles on the roof, the house is a living, breathing, healing work of art. It’s a home successfully designed to reflect the people who live thereit’s unforgettable.

Coming up on November 14th & 15 is the Over The Mountain Studio Tour. Two days and ten stops up and down Jefferson County. Exhibitions of the finest original paintings, ceramics, jewelry, furniture and so much more. The first stop on the Tour is Manna Machine Studio on Howard Farm Road. Doug Kinnett’s paintings, furniture & tile creations and Colleen Tracey’s Black Bottom Bags, just in time for the holidays. Do yourself a huge favor be there.