By Peggy Purser Freeman
The light and life Doctor Kenneth Wyatt molded into his recent sculpture of John Tarleton, Erath County pioneer and founder of Tarleton State University, is a perfect example of the master’s touch. In this prestigious eight-foot bronze sculpture, Kenneth went beyond copying an old photo. Conceived by meticulous research and fed by paradoxical facts of Tarleton’s passion for education and his unwavering austerity, this Kenneth Wyatt work emerged from the artist’s soul.
Wyatt paintings hang in offices, homes, churches, and museums. President Bush, Queen Elizabeth, farmers, bankers, movie stars, clergy and almost every other occupation known collect them. The artwork of Dr. Kenneth Wyatt speaks to the soul in a language that overflows from his passion to the heart of those who pause and look deeper. His art reflects the spirit of people, the beauty of creation and the grandeur of the Creator.
I met Kenneth when I was fourteen at a youth assembly in Waco. He was a pastor in Chillicothe, Texas at that time. I knew him best as the “Preacher” who taught with modern day parables and a large dose of humor. His Bible studies and small group sessions helped us face our fears and grab on to our dreams.
The artist, Dr. Kenneth Wyatt, like the preacher, gives the world a glimpse of God, humanity, and the thoughts and feelings that live within each of us. His religious paintings hang in churches of all denominations and in more than ninety countries. His ability to paint diverse subjects from landscapes, children, and flowers to western scenes, portraits, and animals is amazing.
However, being known as one of the world’s best Western and religious artists hasn’t changed this down-to-earth, uncommon man. With over 9,000 paintings and sculptures, at 84 years of age, his humor and zeal for life and creating are stronger than ever. Those who know him best say Kenneth’s mood swings alter his style. He may paint still life one day and a herd of stampeding horses in a thunderstorm the next. In the Tarleton sculpture Kenneth captures the joy of Tarleton, the man who was denied education as a child but bequeathed it to millions. Much like John Tarleton, Kenneth Wyatt’s life began in meager circumstances.
“Growing up and working with my father on roofs, I picked up a piece of leftover copper and started my first art project—a three dimensional of a horse. When we built our own home, I helped my dad with everything. I didn’t want to share a room with my brother or sister, so took the basement and had a bunkbed. I grew tired of looking up into a blank ceiling and started sketching horses and scenes. But I grew a little worried about what mom would say when she realized I was drawing on the ceiling. When she finally saw it, she suggested I use paint. She loved art and encouraged me. As I painted scene after scene on the ceiling, I felt a little like Michelangelo. My folks even let me paint a little on the walls. I recently dropped in to see the old house. The people who own it now, seemed pleased to say the paintings are still there.”
Kenneth Wyatt’s drawing and sketching with doodles of cars, horses, and other animals, embellished the borders of his school and homework papers. “I don’t believe that the drawings helped my grades any,” Kenneth said with a splash of laughter that danced around his words, “but at least the teachers didn’t insist that I stop decorating my reports with them!”
In college at McMurry in Abilene, he helped the cheerleaders paint signs with spirited images of the college’s mascot, the Indian. One game that Kenneth remembered the most was a “big rivalry.” The opposing team had to come into town on the main highway. “We painted a huge Indian on the road where the team could see it as their bus pulled into town. I’m surprised we didn’t get arrested for defacing public property, but we didn’t. The city even left it there for a while.”
Few artists have the work ethic of Kenneth Wyatt. He paints eight to ten hours a day and still finds time to speak to groups all over the county. He was declared the official State of Texas Artist early in his career. In 2013, he was named Southern Baptist Communicator of the year.
When I visited with Kenneth, he had just finished the smaller version of the Tarleton sculpture and a huge work of art for a rancher. The painting is an eight by ten foot painting, featuring a cowboy on horseback, leading horses by waving a Texas Lone Star flag. “This rancher wanted a painting with the Texas flag in it. I’ve seen horses trained to follow a flag and thought it would be appropriate to follow a Texas Lone Star. I used my grandson as the model…cheap labor,” Kenneth said with a soft laugh.
With a little encouragement, he spoke of the honor he felt when he painted the National Day of Prayer-Focus on the Family gift to President George Bush.
“It’s an honor to be asked to do things like that, but even more to get to know Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family. The very best time was when I got to visit with Ronald Reagan for an hour and a half. He was the real thing. I painted him wearing a yellow slicker on horseback in the rain. I’m sure the Queen saw that one and that is why she had to have one just like it.”
Like the art this Texas icon creates, Kenneth Wyatt shines with warmth, and with light and homespun humor. The Wyatts’ forty-year-old business is a mission, offering a unique blend of the Western and Christian lifestyles portrayed through art. “It’s a family business,” Kenneth says. “Our daughter, Jill, has become an excellent watercolor artist and Jake is growing into his art. My son-in-law is a major part of our business, doing everything from building frames and barrels to tubes for shipping. My son has developed into an excellent cartoonist.”
Kenneth Wyatt’s works speak to people from all walks of life. Kenneth’s books, like Cup of Daisy, a treasure of his poetry and paintings, are a special mix of poignancy and laughter. The Apostles—paintings of Christ’s disciples and the stories of the model used and what the artist wanted to show in the world-renown paintings is in its fourth printing.
“It’s strictly a gift from God,” is Dr. Wyatt’s own explanation. “Some people tell what they see in words. I show it with paint.”
Kenneth Wyatt’s art speaks with a message and it touches each person in a different way. It’s that message that makes the man—that opens the window of his soul and gives us a glimpse of his Creator.
Photos by Riley Studio and provided by Kenneth Wyatt