Amy Kern paints ‘messages of love’ at Colonial Acres
Amy Kern strolled across the lawns and down the sidewalks of the Colonial Acres property in Washington on a hot August afternoon. She spoke about art, artists, paint colors and her family. The high-energy women who graduated from Washington High School in 1989 had to set down her can of Red Bull so that she would have two free hands to fully describe her painting process.
She described how she started painting the first of five tornado shelters on the Colonial Acres property on June 1. She kept her mind on her kids while she was painting, she said, and every one of the 20 panels – 5 storm shelters times 4 sides to each shelter – is a message of love. There are flowers and hearts in every panel, and she included “-XOXO” as a tribute to the signature she leaves on notes to her mother, Gayle Monty, and her two children.
She would start painting at 6:30 a.m. and then take a break and do some mowing or trimming work around Colonial Acres. Then she’d come back and paint some more. Residents and morning walkers would often greet her with a, “What are you painting this morning, Amy?”
She said people enjoyed watching her paint and trying to guess what the theme of the day was. While she was painting the lion, someone originally thought she was painting a bunch of doughnuts, she said with a laugh.
“At 49, this is when I knew I was an artist,” she said as she stood back and admired her large lion. She said she had to force herself to master the use of proportions to draw the lion’s face freehand and to proportion. She used her own face as a template when deciding where to place the eyes and nose.
“These are some of the best paintings I’ve ever done,” she said. “And I can’t sell them or take them with me. They are here for the community to enjoy.”
She described how she would circle the Colonial Acres property dozens of time during the evening and at night this summer as she tried to decide what to paint on the shelters and how to paint it so that it would be visible even at night. She took into consideration the different angles residents would see from their windows and what others would see driving down the street.
She is known as Amy Pop Kern to some because of her love for pop art, she said. Pop art is based on simple, bold images of everyday items including pop cans and animals that are painted in bright colors. Kern said she loves to paint animals and nature, and she loves bold colors. Yellow and blue are her favorite, she said, as is evidenced by many of the panels she painted this summer.
She decided to paint the tornado shelters at Colonial Acres after she took a summer mowing position there last summer. She was hired to weed eat, mow and trim bushes. She also painted a mural with a tree and woodland animals on a blank wall inside Colonial Acre’s main building.
She couldn’t get over the tornado shelters, which were a dark red, rust color, Kern said. Last summer she painted them light blue but decided to take a year to decide what else to do with them. This year, when she returned to her summer mowing job at Colonial Acres, she knew how she was going to make the shelters more appealing.
She tried to keep the project “under wraps” while she painted because she didn’t want people to influence her art by giving requests. She had the complete freedom to paint whatever she wanted, she said.
She got paid to paint the tornado shelters while also doing summer yard work at Colonial Acres this summer where she worked with her uncle, Larry Sawin. She said she would normally never make art for the “beans” she was paid for the summer landscaping position, but with no summer college classes to teach, and her desire to be outside and make art, she decided she would embrace the times and pour herself into the art that she could leave behind for the community.
Her first tornado shelter took 30 hours to paint, she said, with the other shelters going faster and taking closer to 20 hours each. Spray paint fades over time, so she saturated the paint into the concrete so it will last longer. She has the most toned arms of her life, she said.
She has some tornado shelter artwork inspired by Monet, and her soup cans are inspired by Andy Warhol. There is some Salvador Dali in there, too. One of the panels was inspired by the Lorax, which is one of her favorite movies.
Her favorite images include the lion, the soup cans and the American flag, although she said she has 3-to- 20 favorites. While painting the flag she had to research how many stripes are on the flag and what the colors stood for.
She also has included a couple rainbows in her tornado shelter paintings, one of which does not follow the ROYGBIV color scheme. She said rainbows are “so happy and joyful.”
She said the images she painted this summer are sketch oriented, and one panel ties into another by wrapping around the corners of the tornado shelters. She said a lot of the images have hidden meanings, and she incorporated roses in honor of her children, who live in Florida.
She was “stuck” on sunflowers for several of the shelters but “finally broke away” she said.
Clad in a black tank top during the summer heat she walked from one tornado shelter to the other while rattling off experiences in high school art with Brad Owen, her previous career in marketing, her current career teaching art and graphic design at Cloud County Community College, and her deep desire to live on a farm and renovate a barn into a house. She picked up sticks and talked with Colonial Acres residents about their lawns as she went.
She walked a circle around each painted side of the tornado shelters and demonstrated with big arm motions how she painted and blended and caused each image to be. She talked about squiggles and optical illusions.
She said there are thousands of images among the paintings, which she finished just last week. Nearly everything was painted free-hand with cans of spray paint, she said, and as the project neared completion, instead of allowing herself to buy more cans of paint, she forced herself to work with different colors to use up what she had. She needs to add a goat to the top of the mountain on one panel, but otherwise she is forcing herself to be done, she said. Besides, she returned to Cloud County Community College this week for meetings. She will continue to live in Washington and commute to Concordia. She’s a farm girl at heart and loves nature, she said, and because she doesn’t have her own farm, she settles instead for doing lawn work and spending the summer outside in the sun.
“I love to paint large scale,” she said, adding that the art she created at Colonial Acres this summer is “Art with a Heart.”