My Call To Art By Catherine Tonning


Welcome to my blog. As my first post, I would like to tell you a little bit about me and my “Art Birthright”.
I was born to creative parents in December of 1952. My father was an artist all of his life and my mother was a talented seamstress. I did not have a relationship with store bought clothes until I was living on my own. Both of my parents shared their talents with me, but unfortunately I hate sewing! I did learn to sew and I can make alterations, but I avoid it as much as possible.

My father, Bernard James Tonning, was chief designer for American Seating Company until his untimely death in 1961 at the age of 42. Even though I was only 8 years old when he passed away, I have never forgotten his easy manner, his kind heart and his laugh. I treasure my memories of the art lessons on a Sunday afternoon, as he always had projects for us at the kitchen table. It might be building models, painting pictures, drawing, or singing by the piano while he played. He was an extraordinary person, as is my mother, who is still with us and going strong at 83 years young. Even though his time with us was short, his influence was strong, passing many talents to me and my siblings.

With this quick glimpse of my life as a child, you can understand how I came into my artist’s birthright, but without the encouragement of my father, I struggled with finding my art soul for years. It wasn’t until I had a family of my own that I decided to go back to school and get not one, but two art degrees. One degree is in Fine Art and the other is in Commercial Illustration. At this point I had played with many medias, but China Painting was my favorite and so the next phase of my art life began. From 1996 through 2006, I traveled across the country selling my art and teaching seminars on porcelain overglaze painting, also known as “China Painting”. I held the office of President for the World Organization of China Painters from 2005 through 2007. My final hoorah as president was the successful organization of an International show and convention for porcelain artists at DeVos Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But life takes us in many directions and often dictates what our next role is to be, and life was telling me now that I was to move in a different direction. On a summer day in June of 2006 my life changed forever when my 1st grandson, Ethan Blake was born to my daughter Kate and her husband Scott, and what should have been the happiest of days, quickly became very serious. We found out that Ethan was born with severe disabilities as his brain had not fully developed in the womb. Within the first 24 hours all of the specialists told us that he would not survive and that if we did get to take him home, he would not live to his 1st birthday. With a broken heart and a lot of soul searching, I decided to put my career on hold. My husband Michael and I had been living in the Chicago area, but decided we needed to move back to Michigan to stay with our daughter’s family and help with Ethan’s care, which was around the clock. While we had been told that Ethan qualified for nursing care, we didn’t get our first nurse until he was 15 months old, so Kate, Scott and I traded 4 hours shifts. Their house was small so Michael and I bought a beautiful home that was much larger and we moved everyone in with us. We still all share in his care, along with the help of his wonderful nurses. Ethan turned 5 this summer and while he is unable to speak or walk, he communicates with us with big smiles and loving eyes and our lives have been changed forever.

And now I feel it is time to move to the next chapter of my life. Because we have help with Ethan’s care, I’m heading back into my home studio in Owosso, Michigan. My plan is to set up an acrylic techniques class, as well as water media and china painting. My subjects are mainly nature, ie: flowers, nature scenes and animal portraits. And back to the birthright…both of my children have inherited the art gene, but it hasn’t rubbed off on my husband, Michael! :)

I hope to keep this blog updated with class schedules, projects and maybe some mini lessons, and I hope that you will follow me as I share “An Artist’s Birthright”.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
6 Responses
  1. Christine Wheaton says:

    Beautiful! Can’t wait to read and learn.

  2. karin chudy says:

    This is awesome!!! Can’t wait to come to class!!!! :)

  3. Pat Austin says:

    Your story is amazing, Kathy. Not only are you talented but beautiful. And a loving family.
    I have always admired your work. Now that I am into watercolors I appreciate it that much
    more. Wish I was closer to take classes.

  4. cynthia McAlpine says:

    Hi, Reading your story is so inspirational. Next year I will be president of Galloway Porcelain Art Club and am looking for artists for our seminars. We are located in Caro, Mi. and I believe you may have had a seminar with our club some years back. It is good to know you are once again available. Hope we may host you as a guest artist in the near future. Any information you send will be helpful in our decision.

Leave a Reply