For many people, art and artistic expression serve as an outlet for the expression of their emotions.
As in the case of Kaitlyn Gillenwater, a fifth-year studio art student at Taylor University.
During her second year of college, she suffered a very traumatic loss, in which one of her best friends committed suicide. As a result, she gained a new perspective on her art and changed her specialty.
“Art has become a way of expressing my own feelings (and) emotions and understanding the heartbreak I experienced in college,” said Gillenwater.
Gillenwater is from Upland, Indiana, and has known Taylor all her life, since her mother is a campus cleaner.
Her passion for art began during her freshman year of high school when she created a painting of a bicycle and submitted it for a national scholarship. Her work was selected as the winner of this Scholastic Fellowship and Gillenwater was invited to attend the ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York. There she met celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and the CEO of Scholastic.
While in high school, she met Taylor English teacher Carie King. At Eastbrook High, King was his high school English teacher and was part of the drama program, which Gillenwater was also a part of.
Gillenwater and King were able to establish a deep connection in which they continually strive to improve each other.
“Kaitlyn challenges me to stop and see the world and things around me differently,” King said.
Upon arriving at Taylor, Gillenwater did not major in art, but instead wanted to join the military.
Now as a studio art major, her primary focus is on the visual arts, particularly metalwork and furniture. Much of his work deals with the themes of grief and suicide.
“I’m trying to understand the topic, the knowledge and the perspective on it,” she said.
Gillenwater’s art allowed him to express his emotions and was his personal way of overcoming his trauma.
“Kaitlyn is a person who is ready to ask for support and help when she needs it,” King said.
Now Gillenwater has built two chairs and a table. These items will be on display in his senior art exhibition on April 1, 2022.
Plus, last summer she helped create a mural with Taylor’s former student Abby Braswell (’21).
Braswell first designed and helped paint the Mama Pearson mural in the summer of 2020, located in Gas City. This painting was done with the Art II class of Assistant Art Professor Laura Stevenson.
Due to the success of the first mural, Braswell was commissioned to make a mural in Matthews, Ind. This mural measures 100 feet by 15 feet. Braswell then contacted Gillwater, and she was able to contribute to the project.
Through art, she also seeks to inspire potential artists. For example, King’s daughter was a middle school student in high school last year. While King’s daughter was visiting Taylor, she was able to meet Gillenwater.
Through a little conversation, King’s daughter showed her interest in artistic creation, especially visual art. As a result, Kaitlyn gave King’s daughter a whole basket of wool, stating that she had inherited it from her grandmother.
“It’s a wonderful experience to watch her grow up and give back with her art,” King said.
Although he hasn’t even graduated from college yet, Gillenwater shows that being an artist isn’t just about being creative and creating art. Being an artist is showing your vulnerability, staying true to your roots, giving back to the community and inspiring future artists with kindness and compassion.
These are traits that make a great artist, and through his hard work, dedication and love of art, Gillenwater certainly epitomizes them all.