Reflections on My Big Sister: Carolyn Kinder

By Coni Houghtling

One of our most endearing family stories is how Carolyn (pictured left) received her nickname “Nunnie.”  When she was born, the nurses said she was as pretty as a petunia, and Petunia was what everyone called her until she came home.  Young brother Dick struggled to say Petunia, and it came out “Nunia” which ultimately morphed into “Nunnie.”  Friends and family have always called her Nunnie, which she tried to change to “a normal name like other kids have” when in high school, until she realized the value of being different from the pack.  To this day, in offices on two continents, receptionists have instructions to prioritize as VIPs  callers who ask for “Nunnie.”

Daddy enjoyed sketching, and as an Engineering Major, his art consisted mostly of drawings of cars, airplanes, ships, and any other machine that interested him.  Mom, though not an artist per se, had very good taste in fashion and décor which developed and expanded in interesting ways through exposure to a wide array of cultures in travels to other countries during my parents’ 29-year military career.

My parents always encouraged our forays into the arts, filling our home with collections of art and music, and the tools and media necessary for our own expression.  While my brothers and I seemed to have a penchant for the performing arts (music, acting, public speaking), Carolyn, from a very early age, demonstrated an astonishing talent for drawing and painting, distinguishing herself far above the rest of her three siblings in this area.

Mom always tells the story of an artist friend of hers who was so impressed with Carolyn’s abilities at five years old that she offered Carolyn art lessons. From then on, my sister developed and honed her gifts through art lessons wherever we were stationed.

The biggest impact on Carolyn came from a two-year exposure to Japanese art and technique.  This Oriental influence is such a foundational aspect of her life that it gives her design work that powerfully simple, timeless appeal that has built and supported at least four different businesses here in the U.S. and abroad.

Another early influence on Carolyn’s artistic development was an art teacher who worked at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. She gave my sister an artistic perspective, teaching her how to “see” in new and liberating ways, an important preparation for the Oriental experience.  I believe it was this particular teacher she loved so much who became the initial catalyst for Carolyn to acquire a vocabulary for sharing the artistic experience, and who ignited the flame of Carolyn’s ability to become a gifted teacher as well as celebrated artist.

I love to watch her walk into a room, pull a child up on to her lap, and with a gentle smile and a few deft stokes of crayon on paper, begin to awaken a hunger in that child to understand the world around them in a wonderful new way: color, perspective, scale, shading – amazing! It’s this ability to communicate, teach, and encourage each person she meets to pursue their own potential with passion that sets Carolyn apart from any other artist.

She was always the “Go-to Girl” for makeup, Halloween costumes, posters, anything requiring artistic flair.  The only time I was disappointed in my sister’s ability was when I was certain she had put the giant “S” on my Superman cape BACKWARDS, as was clearly visible in the mirror!

A cherished gift from Carolyn was anything she had made in her studio, with YOU in mind. She created so many paintings, etching, drawings, etc.; I still have a number of them.  For example, when Daddy paneled the guest bath in walnut, Nunnie presented him with one of the walnut panels emblazoned with an oil painting of a mallard duck – his favorite hunting quarry!

I grew up with Carolyn’s art all over my world and took many of her paintings with me when I left home. By the time I was old enough to be consciously aware I was learning artistic principles from her, Carolyn already had quite a number of art pupils, had opened a frame shop to accommodate the needs of those pupils, and was regularly interviewed as the successful female entrepreneur by the small town media where she lived.

My favorite interview was for the local TV station.  Carolyn created a large oil painting while discussing art and answering questions.  Carolyn was illustrating the impact of texture by referring to the human eye’s ability to tell the difference between suede and satin from across the room.  The interviewer wore a puzzled expression as she considered this point, then asked, “How? How DO we tell the difference?” The answer, so simple, so profound, changed my life: “The way they reflect the light.”Carolyn has a way of taking an ocean of teaching and crystallizing it into a single statement that echoes forever in the halls of the mind.  This gift makes her a powerful teacher and mentor!

Over time, Carolyn has built her reputation and diffused resistance to her ideas by demonstrating that her creations are wildly successful sellers to the end consumer.  Carolyn is my shining example of PERSISTANCE – not allowing initial refusals and negatives to discourage me from believing in myself and pursuing my dreams; learning new methods of approaching any given problem until it shows up in the rearview mirror. Carolyn had so many fresh, new ideas that were quickly embraced and “knocked off” by the industry – icons such as multiple mat boards, framing that had a mass and a “presence” of its own, the asymmetrical kimono pieces, and so many, many more.  I have watched with joy how her design expressions have expanded from oil paintings into all kinds of wall art, accessories, furniture, lighting fixtures, lamps, and many other new avenues currently under development.

By candlelight and coffee in early morning dream sessions on her visits to my home, we plan books, blogs, TV shows, instructional videos, social media events, and all types of marketing support for existing clientele.  Carolyn’s art, lighting fixtures, and interior design principles are incorporated all over my home and, almost by osmosis, I have adopted her way of thinking about anything artistic – which, of course, includes everything! I love the great irony that Carolyn’s career started on a Midwestern farm and now commands a global, cosmopolitan presence, while my career began in a metropolitan arena and now emanates from a small Midwestern farm. But, as she taught me, it doesn’t really matter WHERE you are, it’s how you reflect the light.

Carolyn Kinder: ARTS Award Recipient for Lifetime Achievement





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