Kathleen Veenstra: Molding Psyches and Clay

‘Rocky Mountain Christmas’ by Kathleen Veenstra. Courtesy/FLAC
Kathleen Veenstra: Molding Psyches and Clay
By Nancy Coombs

Kathleen Veenstra is well known for her many years of work with the Los Alamos Public Schools as a counselor, but fewer people are familiar with her as an artist.

Veenstra is successful as a ceramicist/potter and also as 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 himself. She was quite 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 an MFA 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 Los Alamos Family Council.

Now retired from the schools, Veenstra continues her private counseling practice, and truly enjoys the extra time she has to focus on art.

Pottery by Kathleen Veenstra. Courtesy/FLAC

Veenstra finds pottery, painting and counseling all compatible and complementary. “I think of art as my primary form of expression,” she said.

With her counseling career she helps others clarify their thought processes and find means of personal expression. Her work as a counselor “is very cerebral, as is painting.”

The painting takes a lot of thought and intellectual focus, so Veenstra relies on working with clay to help her unwind. 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, Veenstra incorporates mixed media as the spirit moves her, letting the works evolve. She may bring in pastels, graphite, charcoal pencil, collage or water color to her canvases, grabbing whatever is close at hand.

‘Portrait of Emily and Ava’ by Kathleen Veenstra. Courtesy/FLAC

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 the joy of portraiture. She has been studying Renaissance portraits to better understand their techniques as a way to improve her own.

Kathleen 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 just two more weeks.

Veenstra 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 landscapes capture not only the beauty of western vistas, but also the serenity inherent in spending time in the mountains. The portraits illustrate the obvious love shared among generations of her family, while exuding a simple charm.

‘Spring Thaw’ by Kathleen Veenstra.Courtesy/FLAC

The Art Center will feature Kathleen 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 http://fullerlodgeartcenter.com. After the Portal show closes, her work may be accessed through the Archives page.


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