Kathleen Palmer took her first serious art class during her freshman year at Shawnee High School. Three years later, her work will hang on the walls of the U.S. Capitol.
Palmer is the winner of this year’s Congressional art competition. Her painting, titled “Dolce,” was selected by Congressman Andy Kim to decorate the Capitol for one year.
“I submitted the painting not expecting to win at all,” Palmer said. “When I found out I won, I was dazzled.”
Her art teacher, Melanie Gessman, encouraged Palmer and two other students to submit their artwork. When Gessman was a student at Shawnee, her friend won, so she recognized how important it could be for her students.
“I remember my art teacher, she was almost crying and they were hugging my friend,” Gessman recalled. “I think it’s just so deserving for Katie because she’s had such a crazy couple of years, and I think that she doubted her talent. These kids just really don’t realize how talented they are.”
Palmer’s painting was inspired by one of her favorite TV shows, “Hannibal,” because of the show’s interesting “cat and mouse game” dynamic. She depicts two characters in a cubist style.
Before its meaning was explained, Gessman viewed the painting as a possible political statement. One subject in it wears red, while the other is in blue. The subject in red wears a frilly shirt and holds a pen to paper in a scene reminiscent of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
“Everyone has a different outlook on it,” Palmer noted of the painting.
Gessman said differing opinions on the artwork make it more intriguing.
“What was so fun about it was that it definitely told a story,” the teacher said. “You could see there was something that was going on there.”
In a statement, Kim said he is proud that visitors to his workplace will have a chance to view Palmer’s painting.
“I look forward to proudly pointing out Kathleen’s painting every time I walk by it in the Capitol as a reminder of home,” he wrote
Gessman said when she told Palmer she had won, she “floated” out of the room.
“Through these past four years, everything that she has been through in her personal life as well as living through a pandemic, she has flourished,” Gessman offered. “I think art was her outlet and art was therapy in a sense, to help guide her through these crazy times.”
Gessman noted that Shawnee’s art students don’t often get credit for their hard work.
“Katie’s one of the underdogs,” Gessman said. “It’s just so awesome to have that opportunity. Now they’re in the limelight and she’s receiving that recognition that she deserved.”
Next year, Palmer will study fine art at Ohio University.
“Art has turned into something that I’m very passionate about, because I like bringing meaning into the world,” Palmer explained. “For me, it’s self-gratifying. I like making beautiful things.”
Gessman said she can’t wait to see her student grow her talent even more.
“If you were to tell us freshman year that this child was going to major in art, we would not have been surprised,” she said. “I can always count on Katie to come up with something that exceeds our expectations.”