By Kathy Konkle
After she could no longer hold a paintbrush due to advancing multiple sclerosis, my mother, Lori Konkle, painted holding the brush in her mouth. Working from memory she painted at least 537 watercolor landscapes, still lifes, flowers, abstracts and animals. Lori painted romantic, often fantastic, depictions of nature and animals with the ability to balance a picture exquisitely and create a painting that is at once dramatic and restrained. Working with color, light and shadow rather than details, Lori achieved a simplicity reminiscent of early American folk art. Lori often painted the countryside around Charlottesville, Virginia, with its views of the Blue Ridge mountains, and her landscapes often reflected the special character of that area. Lori's paintings have been shown in Charlottesville, Virginia at many doctor’s offices, charity auctions and “Very Special Arts” shows.
After Lori passed away in 2007 I was inspired to write a book about her life and art. Since most of the work was sold in the Charlottesville area I thought it might be possible to find the paintings and photograph them. It would have been easier tophotograph the paintings before our mother sold them or gave them away but unfortunately, while she was alive, we weren’t very experienced with photography. My sister Kris, who lives in Charlottesville, said mom did her paintings so fast that she never got a chance to even see half of them much less get to photograph them. I always wanted to photograph my mother’s paintings but I lived in New York plus, with my bad arthritis, I can’t manage a camera very well. With digital photography getting better and cheaper, I made up my mind to find someone to help me photograph the paintings.
While it may not have been photographed as it was painted, the work was documented in a meticulous inventory list kept by Lori and her caretakers at Riverdale AssistedLiving Residence. Kris found the list and sent it to me and so began a four month long search for the paintings. The list had the names of paintings and the names of the people who bought or were given the paintings but unfortunately had no contact information. Thanks to the internet and to an article in the local “Daily Progress”about my project we located hundreds of paintings. To my surprise as I began talking about the project people began volunteering to help me. After seeing the article in the paper Sheila Madison of Charlottesville, a friend of Lori’s and an experienced photographer, volunteered to help shoot the paintings. Daniel Soergel of Brooklyn helped me buy the photo equipment and taught me how to get sharp photos of the paintings under glass without getting reflections. When Diana Kline of New York volunteered to drive and help shoot the paintings the project was in full steam. I hired a photography assistant in Charlottesville, Tim Castellani of Status Hat
, and began setting up appointments to shoot the art.
We traveled to Charlottesville in a rented car and stayed for two weeks at a lovely long-term stay motel in town. Armed with Google maps and a GPS, we traveled to 38 locations, met over 60 people and photographed 150 paintings. I loved seeing all the paintings I had never seen before and I specially liked meeting all my mother’s friends and hearing their stories about her. It’s true what they say about southern hospitality, because everyone was so nice to let us into their homes. Several people even cooked for us or took us out to dinner. I would like to thank all the people who helped me with my project so far. Everyone loved Lori and they all said they were happy to help.
There are still over 380 paintings unaccounted for according to the inventory list. When we photographed the paintings I asked each person to look at Lori’s list to see if they knew anyone else who might have a painting. I still have over 100 names on the inventory list I haven’t had time to look up yet. Maybe next year I will attempt to find the rest of the paintings, but for now I’m busy writing and designing the book and I hope to have it finished by the fall. I’m also re-designing Lori’s website, www.lorikonkle.com
, which I hope will be finished by the end of the summer.
I feel I have photographed enough paintings to tell Lori’s story which is a happy one of a courageous woman who overcame her illness, made many friends and produced a large body of wonderful artwork that will bring joy to people for many years to come.
ABOUT KATHY KONKLE