Kathie Odom’s success as a plein air painter holds a life lesson for all of us. A University of Tennessee art school graduate, her career led her to creative endeavors that weren’t fine art: framing, faux finishing, decorating, and renovating spaces. It wasn’t until she turned 50 that a birthday gift from her husband Buddy steered her back to her first love.
The gift was a plein air—meaning “open air”—painting workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. “I haven’t stopped painting since,” she says. “I had come to a place where I felt like it was my time. My children had flown the nest, my parents had passed away. My mother had ALS, and to see her lose her abilities to do the things she loved made me realize I was not doing what I really wanted to do, which was to get back into art. It was a lightbulb moment. It took courage and bravery, producing something and being proud enough to put it in front of people. I’m just so glad that it happened and that I’m doing it.”
Now 63, Kathie is represented by galleries around the country, including the District Gallery in Knoxville, and, in addition to painting in plein air events, she teaches workshops. In 2023, she’s scheduled to teach in Santa Fe, New Mexico; New Hampshire, Alabama and Provence, France. She published a book last fall of her art, photographed by Knoxville photographer Jim Wells, and Buddy’s stories about it. When they’re not traveling, her studio consists of the mountains that surround their Walland home.
Kathie paints in oils and calls her style “nostalgic impressionism.” “I love where we live, and I love connecting nature with manmade things,” she says, “especially old structures close to the mountains. I like to imagine the stories of the people who lived there.”
She doesn’t want realism as the final result. “I look at a subject and wonder how would Kathie paint that, and it really takes the pressure off. So my paintings start with a drawing in paint. Then I get to lay on the butter—the color and viscosity of the paint. I feel like I have an approach that is my own.”
Kathie was one of 20 artists who participated in Friends of the Smokies’ first plein air painting event last fall, which raised $270,000 to benefit the park. “We’ve been to Wisconsin and California, Arizona and Florida for plein air events, and to see all the paintings of our park… it was very emotional for us.” You can find more info on her work at kathieodom.com.