“AT THIS AGE, it’s time for me to do what I’m here to do.”
Kathleen Conover‘s life is about to change and she’s thrilled with it. The renowned U.P. painter is selling her studio out near Presque Isle after twenty-five years in business.
But it’s not to retire. Oh no, not even close. But we’ll get to that in a minute or two.
First, you have to understand how this California-born woman became a full-time, highly successful, watercolor painter.
“It was never really a choice,” she says. “They say you can’t choose to be an artist. It chooses you. And I’d been raised always hearing you can’t make a living as an artist. The problem is, I didn’t care about anything else to the extent that I cared about art.”
She took menial jobs early in her life, got her undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, then followed her husband out to Marquette where he taught at NMU.
She raised her two children here, and at one time took on a job as a map drafter, but she couldn’t escape her painting. She worked at it at home..
And then she got divorced. Life-changing decisions had to be made.
With help from her mother, she bought the little shop–a former deli–out near Presque Isle.
Conover bought her gallery twenty-five years ago.
“I needed a place to live, a place to sleep, a place to show my work, and a place to do my work,” she explains. She lived in the upstairs apartment for five years.
She had now become a full-time artist-businesswoman but life was proving to be difficult.
“I gave myself two years to see if I could make it,” she says. “I worried myself sick wondering how I was going to pay my bills. And then the transmission in my car went out. I was told it would be three thousand dollars to repair it. I didn’t have it. But then that day, two of my original paintings sold for $1500 each….I get teary just thinking about it now, and I’m not an emotional person.”
After two years, she found she was making it. Not only was she paying her bills but she was putting money aside, and starting to build what’s become a national and international reputation.
“Change is in the air,” by Kathleen Conover.
Her paintings–contemporary watercolors heavy with symbolism–have been exhibited across the United States and around the world–New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, California, China. She’s been invited to teach all over the world–France, Ireland, Mexico, and China.
She’s taken part in prestigious competitions, she’s won awards, she’s been published in books.
Next month, she’s heading to Iceland for a couple of weeks to teach.
Which brings us to her reason for closing up her shop.
“I never thought I would be a retailer for twenty-five years,” she says. “So it’s time. I just don’t have enough time to do the creative work that needs to be done.”
At age sixty-nine, she wants to do more painting and more teaching, less selling. The creative fires are still burning, and the desire to share her knowledge and skills with others remains strong.
She’s an artist–a profession that rarely yields a livable income–but she’s defied the odds with professional success, critical acclaim, worldwide travel, and enough money to live comfortably.
Now this vibrant woman is moving on to the next phase of her life.
The shop? Fortunately it’s been bought by another artist. The deal will close on June 1st. The new owner will still display Conover’s art in half of the shop all this summer while Conover, herself, will be making the move–working out of her Eastside home, traveling the world, and continuing to create the work that has sustained and nurtured her for most of her life.
“It’s been more than I ever could have anticipated,” she says, a smile lighting up her face. “I am thrilled because I am a full-time artist.”