Everett Raymond Kinstler

by Bob Bahr

Everett Raymond Kinstler painted astronauts and presidents, Cagney and Hepburn, Clinton and Nixon, Tom Wolfe and Tony Bennett. He’s been the inspiration for thousands of artists across the country and beyond. And somehow, almost inconceivably, he’s gone. Kinstler passed away on May 26. He was 92, so his death shouldn’t be a shock to any of us, but it is, because for so many of us he represented the bedrock of good and expressive painting, particularly the painting of portraits. How can that be gone?

I didn’t know Mr. Kinstler that well. Frankly, I always feared that he was too busy to bother with me. Wouldn’t he have a lunch date with the best man at his wedding, Tony Bennett? Wouldn’t he be painting a famous celebrity or titan of industry, or spending time with his charming wife, Peggy?

Kinstler painting a portrait of Jim Parkman at the 2011 Dubois SKB workshop

I realize this was foolish thinking. The few interactions I had with him showed him to be a kind and generous gentleman of great talent. He would have found time for me. Well, regrets are for suckers. So I’ll turn to people in the SKB world, people who knew him better, to offer tribute to the greatest American portrait painter of the last century.

From Terry Stanley:
When I started Richeson’s art school, Jack Richeson asked for my wish list of “names” to bring in for workshops. At the top of that list was Everett Raymond Kinstler. Neither of us knew him yet, but he was fated to have a huge impact on both our lives. Ray Kinstler was one of the most generous artists on the planet. He held nothing back from his students—you learned his how-to’s and his how-not-to’s, often accompanied by tales of his biggest failures. The word “raconteur” can be defined simply with Ray’s name: He held any audience in thrall with his funny, sometimes touching anecdotes and assessments of the many presidents and celebrities he painted and befriended in the process. He didn’t need to teach, but he did so because he considered it a sacred trust to educate future generations. He remembered names and personal details of people he met only briefly. He was one of the founders of the Portrait Society of America and meeting him was a huge draw for hundreds of members to come to the annual conference. Most of all, he was a kind and loving man who loved Peggy and the kids above all else in this world. It’s because of him and Peggy that I “found” SKB. I am so blessed to have known this man and to have had the privilege of being his friend. I’m grateful that many of the SKB family got to meet him, because that’s the only way anyone could truly understand the force of the universe that was Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Steve Doherty, former editor of American Artist and PleinAir magazines:
Almost all of the tributes to Everett Raymond Kinstler posted online have included personal stories of how the master portrait artist inspired and informed each mourner. Those stories reflect the fact that the great man touched every aspiring artist he met in very sincere and personal ways. His warm, generous, and heartfelt words of encouragement stayed in the artists’ memories for decades. His firm handshake, arm over the shoulder, and gentle smile made each student and admirer feel blessed to know Mr. Kinstler and to call him a friend.

I often repeat a story Mr. Kinstler told me about having self-confidence in the face of bad reviews and poor award results. He pulled a framed watercolor painting from the mantel in his studio to show me the results written on the back that documented the piece being entered in three separate American Watercolor Society competitions. The painting was rejected twice and won the gold medal on the third try. “One important lesson for me is that art competitions are purely subjective and one person might respond well to my paintings while another will not,” Mr. Kinstler said. “But perhaps more importantly, the painting reminds me that I have to be confident enough in my pictures to submit the same piece three times when I believe it to be a successful work of art.”

The first time I met Mr. Kinstler was at a fancy reception. I had just grabbed a stuffed mushroom with my right hand, and as I tried to maneuver the mushroom from my right to my left hand so I could shake Mr. Kinstler’s hand, the mushroom dropped and landed squarely on Mr. Kinstler’s right shoe. I quickly secured a napkin and bent down to clean up the embarrassing mess, and as I rose to offer an apology I said: “Now you will always remember me as the clumsy editor who soiled your shoe.” To that, Mr. Kinstler quickly replied: “No. I will always remember you as the editor who had the good sense to genuflect when he first met me.”

Kinstler influenced countless painters.

Pam Cable, executive director of SKB:
We at SKB were very fortunate to have the pleasure of the company of world-renowned portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler as an instructor at our annual Dubois, WY Artists Rendezvous & Workshop in 2011. As a demo for the artists, our chairman, Jim Parkman was asked to pose for a portrait. Mr. Kinstler could paint and regale his audience with his humorous storytelling all at the same time.

While the painting and the storytelling progressed, his enthralled fans at Headwaters Arts & Conference Center were taking notes, photos, and videos. Autographs were graciously given. It was a very memorable time for us and stands as one of the highlights of our nearly 20 years as a foundation providing art education programs for all ages around the country.

The icing on the cake? Jim Parkman was given the resulting stunning portrait.

A world of thanks to Everett’s wife and SKB board member, Peggy Kinstler, for facilitating a moment in time so special to us. He will be sorely missed in so many capacities, but we are left with our good memories and are the better for having known him.

Kinstler and Jim Parkman

Caleb Goggans, SKB instructor:
How I first met Ray Kinstler exemplified how personable, professional, and gracious he was. I was 18 years old, just a green kid volunteering at one of the very first international conferences of the Portrait Society of America, for which Ray was a board member and featured presenter. So here I was, door ward for a very popular session for which Peggy Kinstler, a publisher who also happened to be Ray’s wife, was a co-presenter, when a group of people tried to breeze in without presenting tickets. Being very studious and very earnest, I turned and said “Excuse me, but you MUST have tickets to attend this session!” A distinguished looking gentleman with white hair and imposing eyebrows stops dead, peered over his glass at me with a hard look that didn’t quite hide a smile and twinkle in his eye, saying “Young man, my WIFE is one of the distinguished presenters of this session.” In that moment, recognition overtook my mind, and I have never been more embarrassed in my life! I stammered “Oh! Oh, I’m so very sorry, Mr. Kinstler, please, go on in!” After the session was over, and I had overcome the certainty that I would die of mortification, I apologized profusely. I will never forget his response, and the qualities of grace, perception, and maturity he displayed. “My dear boy!” he said, as he grasped me by the shoulder, “Think nothing of it, I admire a man doing his job! Now tell me, are you an artist?”

Before the short conversation was over, he had told me that he would love to see what I’m working on, and that if I ever had the chance I should come visit his studio. The depth of his generosity in that moment was astonishing. He meant was he said, too. Over the years I had the pleasure of visiting his home and studio several times, receiving insightful critiques of my work, and getting excellent advice on my career. He was one of the greats. I’ll miss him deeply.

Dawn Whitelaw, acclaimed portrait artist and SKB instructor (2011):
Everett Raymond Kinstler was most certainly a giant among us. He had the pure charisma that you most often see in great actors and statesmen.

There was no doubt how much he loved his work and his friends and his dear Peggy. The excellence of his paintings and the stories of his phenomenal work ethic will continue to inspire all of us to do our best work.

More from Caleb Goggans:
Over the years Mr. Kinstler gave so many great critiques of my work, lent invaluable advice on my career, and never failed to greet me with recognition, enthusiasm, and earnestly ask about my life and art. When I was about to head off to college and he heard I would be near NYC, he invited me and a guest of my choosing to a private reception for his solo show at the Salmagundi Club in NYC. At the end of the evening, he invited me and my friend to join them for dinner in the club room. Feeling I shouldn’t impose, I declined. How I wish I had had more confidence back then! While I regret not having accepted, I have since had many wonderful dinners with the Kinstlers, and visits to their home and his studio that I will remember with fondness and gratitude. In so many ways, he was one of the Greats. I’ll miss him deeply.

Kinstler’s portrait of Jim Parkman, in progress

Jim Parkman, Chairman of the Board, SKB:
He had a way of making you feel close to him and that he cared for you. That’s what made him so loved, talented and successful.

Go well, Mr. Kinstler. You were and are well loved. Ω


Kinstler’s palette

Everett Raymond Kinstler

Everett Kinstler painting Jim Parkman at the SKB Workshop.