Kate Hulin of Charlotte, North Carolina, always admired portraits of children when visiting others’ homes. Even in her husband’s family, there were large childhood portraits of him and his siblings drawn by a talented relative. “As my own three children were growing up, there were neither the funds nor the thought to do the same,” she says. “But by the time my first grandchild came along, I knew that I wanted to capture something of my grandchildren’s early years.”
To find an artist, Kate turned to Kathy Southerland, an associate with Portraits, Inc., a company with roots stretching back to 1942 and a roster of more than 100 fine portrait artists across the country. In Kathy’s book of samples, the work of artist Dawn Whitelaw stood out for her impressionistic style and ability to portray personalities. Kate felt that Dawn would be the ideal artist to capture her shy 3-year-old granddaughter in a fleeting moment in time before another stage of maturity took hold. So began a 20-year Hulin family tradition. Eventually five granddaughters, upon their third year, would meet with the artist who could lasso time with her brushstrokes.
As art lovers, the Hulins have welcomed into their primary home many pieces inherited from their childhood homes—paintings, busts of family members, even heirloom portraits of ancestors they can no longer identify. But their grandchildren’s portraits hold a place of honor at their vacation home in the mountains, where they unveiled Dawn’s most recent commission on Christmas Day. The large conversation portrait above the mantel depicts a gathering of all five granddaughters at their current ages, from 9 to 22.
“They are seen together, enjoying one another around an open fire, doing what all the girls enjoy, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores—another brief moment in time never to be forgotten,” Kate says.
What the Hulins’ story illustrates quite well is that whether a family has an established tradition of portraiture or is starting a new one, there are no rules. The artist, style, medium, and setting are all personal choices—part of the unique story that makes a portrait a treasure to pass down from one generation to the next.
“Your portrait doesn’t have to look like your grandmother’s,” says Bebe Barnard, president at Portraits, Inc., which is based in Birmingham, Alabama, but has associates in 45 cities around the U.S. “You think of these old stoic portraits that were done a while back, but portraits aren’t really like that anymore.”
A portrait might be realistic or impressionistic, a sketch, a small head-and-shoulders watercolor, a full-length oil, or even a sculpture. The associates at Portraits, Inc., help clients narrow down the choices by creating a digital presentation of portrait samples tailored to one’s style and budget.
Once an artist is chosen, a sitting is arranged at a site of the client’s choosing so that the artist can take photos, make sketches, and get to know their subject. Then it’s off to the studio to create a work of art—a portrait of not just a physical likeness but a personality.
By the time the portrait is unveiled—usually eight months to a year later—the experience itself becomes woven into the canvas of a family’s history.
No one knows this better than Kristin Koepfgen, another longtime Portraits, Inc., client. Her family’s tradition of portraiture began decades ago with internationally beloved portrait artist Arthur Stewart (1915-2001), who once painted Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris and whose work hangs in private collections worldwide, including the collection of Queen Elizabeth II. The Alabama-born artist often visited his home state and eventually returned there permanently. Through the years, he painted members of Kristin’s family (who also lived in Alabama) spanning three generations, including her mother and two aunts as young women, Kristin at age 4, and her nephew at age 3.
“Everyone always wants to know about my mother’s portrait the first time they visit,” Kristin says. “It’s in the Art Deco style and very interesting artistically—very Southern with magnolias in the background.”
After moving to Chicago and starting a family of her own, Kristin continued the tradition, working with Portrait Brokers of America (now Portraits, Inc.) to commission artist Jerry Whitworth to paint her son at age 4. When her daughter came along, her sister-in-law persuaded her to have a mother-daughter portrait done. And so yet another legendary American portrait painter entered the family’s life, Marshall Bouldin III (1923-2012), hailing from the Mississippi Delta.
Over 25 years later, Kristin still remembers fondly the moment Marshall arrived at her doorstep for an initial meeting while in town for a commission at Northwestern University. “He was such the quintessential artist and so interesting,” she says. “He wanted to capture our essences. He took videos, did sketches, and had dinner with us. I have such a wonderful memory of his time here. We got to know each other, and there’s a lot of personality in the portrait.”
It’s the kind of story that Portraits, Inc., strives for—to create memories and fine art portraits that will be treasured in families for generations.
To see more examples of fine art portraits or to learn about commissioning a portrait painting, visit portraitsinc.com or call 800.476.1223.
Sponsored by Portraits, Inc
By Terri Robertson