Library exhibit features Kihlman's artworks, fashion designs

January 25, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

The images are striking. Whether they're fashion designs or paintings, the colors are bright; the people, places and things are sassy and festive; the ambiances are cheerful and vibrant.

The fashion figures' hands reach out to draw in a viewer, to tilt a hat or twirl a strand of pearls, all of which are carefully color-coordinated and painstakingly detailed. The pencils and charcoals contain broad strokes, almost larger-than-life images of the subject matter.

Even the artist's face, moving from photograph to pencil drawing to painting, encourages a viewer to look closer and examine her: Brenna Kihlman, longtime artist, budding fashion designer. Her works will be up for perusal in February in the Boyle County Library.

Her mom, Shan, says she had been talking with Gathering Artists members Nancy Beresford, Joyce Duckworth and Virginia Robertson about doing an exhibit of Brenna's work. They jumped on the idea, Shan Kihlman says.


"We went through all of her stuff and found a bunch of stuff we'd never seen," she notes.

Artist Chuck Whitehouse also looked through many of Brenna's works of art, narrowing down the volumes of work to 54 preferred pieces. Beresford and Robertson whittled that number down to 12-14 works that will be on display at the library. The works range from charcoal and pencils to pastels and inks, with a smidgen of oils thrown in, A lot of people are interested in seeing Brenna's artwork on display, Shan Kihlman says.

The artist, however, will not be on hand for receptions, kudos or visual arts discussions, although undoubtedly her spirit will permeate the exhibit. Brenna, who was adopted from Korea when she was 9 months old, died about 22 1/2 months ago at the age of 26. She was diagnosed at age 17 with medullary thyroid cancer, a "familial disease," according to her mom. Her illness was discovered after nodules were discovered on her tongue during a teeth-cleaning.

Brenna went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, as well as surgeries. Meanwhile, she developed Addison's disease, which causes the adrenal glands to not function properly. The cancer metastasized to Brenna's lymph nodes, liver and lungs, and other developments further complicated her condition. Ultimately, she had her adrenal glands and a kidney removed.

"But she graduated from high school, went to college, worked and lived on her own until she couldn't," says Dale Kihlman. "She was just an inspiration."

Three babies have been named after her

When Brenna died, a lot of her friends called and wrote the Kihlmans about how Brenna had touched their lives. To date, three babies have been named after her, Shan Kihlman says.

Throughout the Kihlmans' house are Brenna's works. There's the pastel/crayon/charcoal "Practice" in the downstairs living room, with which Brenna won first-place accolades at an all-state exhibit in 1993 when she was a senior in high school. Upstairs is "Evening," another pastel.

There are Christmas cards she designed. One card has the Kihlmans' house on it.

"Lots of people bought her cards and copied them," Shan Kihlman says.

She says her husband would take a picture and Brenna would sketch it.

"She'd come up with these great ideas, then they petered out," Shan Kihlman explains wryly. Her mother says Brenna never stayed with one project for long.

There's a box on which Brenna painted, and a small glass globe with a design on it she created.

"She just sat down and did it," her mom says.

Dale Kihlman recalls Brenna drawing four brass instruments, which he encouraged her to sell at The Great American Brass Band Festival.

Of the yet-unseen Brenna works the Kihlmans discovered in her room after she died, some of them have been copied for friends, who have framed and hung them in their homes.

Dale Kihlman says Brenna always was an artist. His wife adds Brenna's talent blossomed with training.

"It took off," Shan Kihlman notes. "Then she wanted to be a fashion designer."

She wanted to get into fashion design

Dale Kihlman says Brenna fluctuated between being excited about art and fashion design, and not pursuing it at all. She spent some time as the visual coordinator for JC Penney's, which cemented her desire to get into fashion design.

"She had a new idea for a project to make hospital gowns more stylish," Dale Kihlman remembers.

Brenna was working on a business plan with a mentor when hospital-wear started changing and becoming more fashionable and interesting, Shan Kihlman says.

She remembers going to New York for a fashion institute. Brenna's health issues prevented her from studying there, but she pursued her interests in fashion at Eastern Kentucky University. Dale Kihlman says clothes would be strewn everywhere when he'd visit her when she lived in Lexington.

"She was always the little fashion girl," Dale Kihlman says. "We got on her about her clothes."

Notes Shan Kihlman, "She'd have 42 pairs of jeans and say she needed a new pair. 'Why?' 'Cause.'"

"We couldn't dress after she died," she adds. "We didn't know how."

Central Kentucky News Articles