What: 2021 Lift Up Artist Gary Kingcade
Where: Kemp Center for the Arts, 1300 Lamar
Admission: Free and open to the public. Information at (940) 766-3347 or www.artscouncilwf.org. Donations are welcome at https://www.artscouncilwf.org/lift-up-art
The Arts Council of Wichita Falls awarded their 2021 Lift Up Art Featured Artist Award to Gary Kingcade, a native Wichitan who taught in the WFISD for 40 years inspiring many young art students. He also worked as gallery director at the Kemp Center for six years and continues to regularly show his paintings, sculpture and jewelry.
Previous Lift Up Artists include Polly Cox, Glen Conway and Jack Stevens. There is currently an exhibit of Kingcade’s art work in West End Studios that will be open until the end of the year.
The Lift Up Art program is an annual program at the Kemp, according to CEO Carol Sales, “to keep the memory alive of artists who influence the community such as Scottie Parsons, Betty Higgins and Tom Crossnoe. It reminds us who lifts up the arts, or art lovers up,” she said.
For a $25 gift to the Arts Council, donors can celebrate someone in their life who has inspired them. The Arts Council will send the donor of their honoree a magnet featuring one of the Lift Up Art artist’s paintings along with a short note.
“It’s similar to the Hospice Star Program and it’s to bring to people’s minds on an annual basis the people who have inspired them. We don’t have a star, we have a magnet; it’s just to keep a history of the high art influence of our programming – and the artists’ work which has influenced art lovers,” Sales said.
Nominations for the Lift Up Artist award are made each year, and a committee meets in June, reviews nominations and makes its choice. Kingcade was nominated five years ago.
Kingcade has lived his entire life in Wichita Falls, educated with two degrees at Midwestern State University and taught in the WFISD for 40 years.
After retiring from Hirschi and Wichita Falls High School, he became the gallery director at the Kemp for six years and has continued to paint, and make jewelry, when he can get the materials. His current show in the West End Studio Gallery is made up of paintings that either he didn’t sell, or did not put up for sale.
Interested in art at a young age
Kingcade came to art when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“I had a brother who was a year younger and we had to take a nap in the afternoon. Larry was very active so he would need to rest. I was awake. My mother let me have a pad and a pencil, so while he as sleeping, I was laying on the bed drawing,” the artist said.
“It was just something I loved doing. Sadly, none of my early work was kept.”
Kingcade took art in Harrell Elementary from (previous Lift Up artist) Glen Conway in 5th, 6th and 7th grades.
“Conway took an interest in me and got me into one of the first downtown sidewalk art shows in 1955 or ’56. He put it In a judged show and I won a ribbon. At that age, it was pretty significant.”
Kingcade attended MSU and earned his BSE degree in All-level Art Education and then a ME degree in Counseling. One of the things that drew him to both art and counseling was a job he held during high school.
A love of teaching
“In high school,” he said, “I wanted a job, and teaching was something I was good at. All the time I went to work for the Boys Club. I lied and said I was 16 (rather than 15 ½). I worked for them all through high school and college. They sent me to be a Branch Director near the projects on the east side of the river on Wichita Street.”
During his time there, Kingcade became really interested in working with the kids and really enjoyed doing so.
“After I got my BSE degree I went back and got my ME degree in counseling. But I didn’t want to counsel all the time. I did more teaching in a class room. I recruited some tough kids by getting them interested In art, and many of them became successful,” Kingcade said.
One of his students, Shannon Spruiell, living in Washington state, is a well-known glass-blower.
“So many kids came through my classes and a number were fantastic. One of the best high school students I had at Old High now owns radio stations in California,” he said.
Kingcade would take a number of his students to regional art shows like in Graham and Burkburnett and enter their work in the youth division.
Art is a very therapeutic thing for Kingcade, both for the artist creating the piece and for the audience encountering it.
“Everyone has what they like,” he said. “Some are more sensitive to visual arts and dance music and so forth. I have danced with every one of these pieces and sometimes I sing to them and sometimes I struggle with them. There can be a very personal connection between visual artists and what they feel.”
Ideas come from a deeper place
Sometimes though, he said, he is only a tool as in his work “Scare the Crow” in his current show “The idea comes from some place much deeper and I don’t know why. Some things I just play with and have fun with like my pumpjack painting. My brother at one time ran those. I have always loved horses but have never owned one, yet there are a lot of horses and western flavor to some of my art.
“My mother’s side said had some native American heritage but I never investigated it. I think there was some heritage. I don’t claim to be an Indian but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate the imagery in the work.”
Changes in medium, styles
Sometimes, Kingcade said, his art is just happy accidents. The main change he has made since college is switching from oil to acrylic to make sure the work dried faster. He also has begun to incorporate objects to be part, such as animal bones. “I had never seen it done it before but just learned to do it.”
One’s approach to art, he said, changes from elementary to junior high to high school to university and beyond.
Telling a story through art
“In 40 years in high school teaching, I brought art to a lot of students. I tried to not make it a skill set but a thought. How to think and how to visually tell a story. That’s what every painting does is tell a visual story. I didn’t really teach students, I guided them. I set them free but I also demanded a lot from them.
“I let them make their mistakes, and sometimes with some of my advanced students I would set them up where I knew they would make a mistake and then they could learn over time to approach it differently. I never told them most of the time, but would let them figure it out.”
Valuable lessons beyond art
A number of the lessons Kingcade taught in his art classes included ideas and lessons that students could use in whatever career they went into. They could be valuable in everyday life, not just painting.
Kingcade has a studio in his house but doesn’t paint every day. He’s currently working on a different (larger) rendition of (this writer’s) favorite piece in his current Kemp show, “Palmyra Bawd.”
“I was driving through East Texas,” he said, “and saw a figure stuck in the ground on the side of the highway. I really wanted to take it home but it was art and it needed to be where it was. It had a life there. All I changed in the art was the location and the stick. The colors and patterns are just like it was.”
Developing a high school art show
One of Kingcade’s most significant accomplishments in the area was developing art shows for high schoolers in the early 1970’s.
Kingcade started becoming active in high school kids having art shows beginning in the early 1970’s at the (former) North Texas Federal Savings and Loan Gallery (near Maplewood and Midwestern Pkwy) in an old Savings and Loan with a gallery.
“No one thought anyone would come to see a high school art show, and there was a line of people to see the art in the gallery,” the artist said.
By the mid-1970’s, the MSU Art department asked him about moving the High School Art Show to the MSU art department, as it continued to become popular and was a good way to recruit student artists (a number who were from out of town). The show has continued to grow, and $4,000 of scholarships were awarded to high school seniors attending MSU Texas in 2021.
Over the years, Kingcade taught five art classes a day in high school and introduced art to a lot of students as well as ideas that could become part of their careers and their lives.
“I still see and am in touch with people I taught art. When I retired there were students who told me that I had taught their grandfather(s). A true story,” he said. “We added the years and there were a lot of people who came through.”
Something that hadn’t been done
“I was the only teacher I knew of who would take students to local shows in Graham, Burkburnett, Henrietta, Bowie and they all won some kind of recognition at some point that motivated them. I didn’t do anything miraculous. I just did something that hadn’t been done before. I spent my time taking the kids and their work and broadened their horizons, and it often worked.
“I encouraged the kids to try new things but also let them know the judges’ eyes would be sharp. The young artists should do their art and hope to get a positive response. Everyone can’t be artists. If they were interested, I would let them do it. I would go to my office and sit down and watch them. If they had questions or needed help, they could ask me,” Kingcade said.