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Q&A: Artist and Author Karl J. Kuerner

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Photo by Tessa Marie Images

A Wyeth disciple shares life lessons and his love of painting in a new book. 

Karl J. Kuerner was one of a select few who benefited personally from artists Andrew Wyeth and his sister, Carolyn. Kuerner studied under Carolyn for seven years, and a number of Andrew’s paintings were made at or around his family’s farm. Hoping to return the favor to artists the world over, Kuerner imparts wisdom, advice, life lessons and lots of spirit into his new book, Beyond the Art Spirit.

MLT: What inspired this book?

KJK: One of the people responsible for helping me following this through was West Chester artist Philip Jamison. We’ve known each other for years, and he said to me, “If you don’t write this, it’s going to be a whole lost era that people don’t even know about.” It took a lifetime so far to get this out, but it was a very unique situation—working with Carolyn Wyeth and seeing her brother work over at our family farm. I wanted this to be almost an extension of Robert Henri’s book, The Art Spirit, and a simplified way to reach young artists.

MLT: Does any one memory stick out from that time?

KJK: The first time I ever met Carolyn, she looked at my work and said, “I’ve seen your drawings, now go home and I’ll see you in two weeks.” That really threw me. I’m thinking, “Well, your brother’s been there, he’s covered everything.” I specifically went over to the farm when Andy was painting and asked if I could have permission to paint on my own property. He laughed at me and said, “If you have your own voice, you’ll see it through.”

MLT: How have those lessons influenced your own teaching?

KJK: You have to work with everyone as one creative person to another. As a teaching artist, you always have to be an encourager. You never want to teach somebody to emulate what you’re doing. You have to work with them to be a pioneer, to make some self-discoveries and [know] that there’s no right or wrong way.

MLT: What about overcoming obstacles?

KJK: A painting can be very daunting. If you paint as if you have something to say, you’ll get that point across, but there may be a lot of pitfalls along the way. You learn to succeed by making mistakes.

MLT: What is it about the Brandywine Valley that’s such a draw to artists?

KJK: Andy certainly reached America at a time where the average person could relate to his work, and I think that probably still draws people in today. Other artists are attracted by the visual, and maybe not the soulful, knowledge. Growing up here, you learn a simple way of life, and the simple things can be very entertaining. Imagination as a young child can take you a very long way.

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