For many people, art and artistic expression act as an outlet for expressing one’s emotions.
Such as the case with Kaitlyn Gillenwater is a fifth-year studio art student at Taylor University.
During her sophomore year of college, she suffered a very traumatic loss, in which one of her best friends committed suicide. As a result, she gained a newfound perspective on her art and changed her major.
"Art became a way to express my own feelings (and) emotions and understand the grief that I have experienced in college," Gillenwater said.
Gillenwater is originally from Upland, Indiana and has known about Taylor her whole life, since her mother is a housekeeper for the campus.
Her passion for art began in her junior year of high school when she created a painting of a bicycle and submitted it for a national scholarship. Her work was selected as a winner for this Scholastic scholarship and Gillenwater was invited to attend the ceremony in Carnegie Hall in New York City. There, she met celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and the CEO of Scholastic.
While in high school, she met Taylor professor of English, Carie King. At Eastbrook High, King was her high school English teacher and part of the theatre program, in which Gillenwater was also a part of.
Gillenwater and King were able to build a deep connection in which they continually strive to make each other better.
“Kaitlyn challenges me to stop and see the world and things around me differently,” King said.
When initially coming to Taylor, Gillenwater did not major in art, but instead wanted to go into the military.
Now as a studio art major, she focuses primarily on the visual arts, specifically metalwork and furniture. Much of her work deals with themes of grief and suicide.
"I strive to understand the topic, knowledge and perspective on it," she said.
Gillenwater’s art allowed her to express her emotions and was her own personal way of overcoming her trauma.
“Kaitlyn is one that is willing to seek support and help when she needs it,” said King.
Now, Gillenwater has built two chairs and a table. These items will be on display at her senior art exhibit on April 1, 2022.
In addition, last summer, she helped create a mural with Taylor alumna 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 Assistant Professor of Art Laura Stevenson’s Art II class.
Due to the success of the first mural, Braswell was commissioned to do a mural in Matthews, Ind. This mural is 100 feet by 15 feet. Braswell then contacted Gillwater, and she was able to contribute to the project.
Through art, she seeks to inspire potential artists as well. For example, King’s daughter was a junior in high school last year. While King’s daughter was visiting Taylor, she was able to meet Gillenwater.
Through a small conversation, King’s daughter showed her interest in creating art, particularly visual art. As a result, Kaitlyn gave King’s daughter a whole basket of yarn, stating that she inherited it from her grandmother.
“It’s a wonderful experience to see her grow and give back with her art," said King.
Despite not even graduating from college yet, Gillenwater is showing that being an artist is not just about being creative and creating art. Being an artist is about showing vulnerability, staying true to one’s roots, giving back to the community and inspiring future artists through kindness and compassion.
These are traits that make a great artist, and through her hard work, dedication and love of art, Gillenwater certainly embodies all of them.