America's famed artist and a devout Christian, Thomas Kinkade, was mourned Saturday by family, friends and fans in Los Gatos, Calif., where he lived. A memorial on his website featured Mathew 5:4: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
Kinkade, who suddenly died on Friday of apparently natural causes at his Los Gatos home, was known by many as America's most collected living artist who would paint Christian themes and symbols.
Kinkade was often invited to speak at Christian institutions and churches. His paintings, some estimate, can be found in one out of every 20 homes in the United States.
He was 54, and is survived by his wife and four daughters – Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett – all named after famous artists and have the middle name "Christian."
"Thom provided a wonderful life for his family," Kinkade's wife Nanette said in a statement. "We are shocked and saddened by his death."
Los Gatos mayor Steve Rice remembered him as "bigger than life." "He was gregarious, outgoing and engaging – as you might expect an artist to be," Los Angeles Times quoted Rice as saying. He added that Kinkade was "very involved" in the local community, donating paintings to help raise money for the elementary schools and the police department.
Curtis Wright, a longtime friend of Kinkade and former mayor of Monte Sereno, recalled that the painter used to say he didn't make art, but heirlooms for the buyers. "He was a young guy and a great person," Wright told Los Gatos Patch. "He really tried to do a lot of stuff for the community, and I really admire him for that. He had some factions between being the cool artist and being a father and husband, but when you look back on it, he did amazing things for the community and the world."
"I'm a warrior for light," Kinkade said in an interview with Mercury News in 2002. He was alluding to his ability to create light on canvas as well as to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine. "With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel," he said.
Ken Raasch, a longtime friend and co-founder of Kinkade's art company, said the artist wouldn't express himself through his paintings but rather give the masses what they wanted. "I'd see a tree as being green, and he would see it as 47 different shades of green. He just saw the world in a much more detailed way than anyone I've ever seen."
The art establishment in the country criticized Kinkade for seeking a mass appeal. "In their minds, he represented the lowest type of art," The Associated Press quoted Jeffrey Vallance, an artist who once hosted a show of Kinkade's artwork in Calif., as saying. "He was different from other artists. You kind of felt like he was giving people what they wanted."
Kinkade said he was inspired by his Christian beliefs and that his art carried a larger moral dimension. He said his goal was to touch people of all faiths, to bring peace and joy into their lives through the images he created.
Kinkade accepted Christ in 1980 when he was studying. He was raised in the Church of the Nazarene in Placerville, Calif., but he later turned away from evangelicalism, only to come back to his original beliefs through his involvement with Calvary Chapel.