RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the artist Thomas Kinkade calls himself the Painter of Light. An estimated one out of 20 homes in the U.S. owns something by him - if not a painting, then a print, or a coffee mug, or a calendar. But even with all those sales, Kinkade's company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. It expects to have a plan of reorganization soon.
Alex Schmidt reports that Kinkade's business troubles haven't hurt his sales.
ALEX SCHMIDT: A Thomas Kinkade can make you feel like you're strolling down a cobblestone path, to a cozy cottage with smoke puffing out the chimney.
Ms. ANNIE KAYNE: When I look at a Thomas Kinkade picture, I get a warm, soft, cozy feeling like I want to go into wherever that is and be part of it.
SCHMIDT: Annie Kayne was window shopping outside a gallery in Irvine, California, that carries Thomas Kinkade. She's a particular fan of his winter scenes, which feature perfect blankets of snow over peaceful gardens and of course snow covered cottages lit from within.
Ms. AMI DAVIS (Art Department, University of California, Los Angeles): Well, I think it harkens back to an imagined past, before cities, before crowds, before traffic, before the stresses of everyday life.
SCHMIDT: UCLA'S Ami Davis wrote her masters thesis on Kinkade.
Ms. DAVIS: I've heard of, you know, almost quasi-religious experiences with some of these paintings.
SCHMIDT: Kinkade has said the light that streams through his paintings is the light of Jesus Christ. But some of his gallery owners have accused the artist of using shared Christian values to defraud them.
They say he convinced them to open galleries in areas that couldn't support them, and then, on top of that, competitively undervalued his own paintings.
Terry Sheppard was a longtime colleague of Kinkade's, and testified in lawsuits gallery owners brought against the artist.
Mr. TERRY SHEPPARD: It's very disappointing when any individual professes a worldview that's about peace, love, joy, family, and then ends up taking a position that is contradictory.
SCHMIDT: The gallery owners won a nearly $3 million judgment and are attempting to collect, after the company declared bankruptcy in June.
To add to the artist's troubles, earlier this year, Kinkade was arrested for a DUI, and his mug shot made its way around the Internet. Still, he continues to sell.
Mr. MARTY BROWN (Co-Owner, Village Gallery): I've been carrying Thomas Kinkade for over 22 years.
SCHMIDT: Marty Brown is co-owner of the Village Gallery in Irvine.
Mr. BROWN: And the fact that he's been selling with such regularity for such a long time is unprecedented.
SCHMIDT: The Kinkade Company sees the success as part of a calculated business model. They methodically sell Kinkade's products in as many formats as possible from calendars to lithographs to armchairs.
Company COO Frank Turrell.
Mr. FRANK TURRELL (COO, Thomas Kinkade Company): What's compelling about this brand is, over the course of time, about 25 million people have purchased some kind of Kinkade product. That's an incredible footprint.
SCHMIDT: Turrell says the company has changed.
Mr. TURRELL: There's an enormous amount of demand out there for Tom's products.
SCHMIDT: New plans entail building partnerships with the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers, and strengthening direct to consumer avenues, like QVC. Not that any of it matters to a longtime fan like Annie Kayne.
Ms. KAYNE: This is the first I've heard that he's going bankrupt. And I don't look upon his paintings any different. I won't.
SCHMIDT: Presumably, when Kinkade's fans start doing their Christmas shopping, they won't look at his calendars, La-Z-Boy loungers or curtains any differently, either.
For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt.
MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
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