A lifetime on canvas and paper: “Ken Zonker: A Retrospective” opens at the Wynne Home

Few established artists can look back over their formative years and take sole credit for the success they’ve achieved.

It takes a multitude of professors, mentors, friends and family members to lend their support so that a student of the arts can find their place within the world.

For countless students at Sam Houston State University, one of those integral pillars of support came in the form of professor Kenneth Zonker, who taught art at the university for nearly four decades.

Zonker, an established and incredibly talented artist in his own practice, passed away in the spring of 2002, leaving a legacy of dedication to the university, along with an astounding portfolio of work which is now owned by his friends and colleagues in Huntsville, Walker County and all across the Lone Star State.

The Wynne Home Arts Center will be hosting an exhibition set to run from Jan. 30 through April 30 of Zonker’s work, entitled “Ken Zonker: A Retrospective.” The Wynne Home will be holding an opening reception for the exhibit tonight from 4:30 to 7.

“He lived simply, but passionately, spending his time teaching and creating his own art during the fall and spring semesters,” said Roberta Plant, co-curator of the exhibit and Friends of the Wynne Home board member. “His summer months were spent traveling the world, cycling, climbing mountains, making new friends and meeting up with old friends from past travels. His passion for life and his artistic curiosity were inspiring and are reflected in the many works now on exhibit at the Wynne Home.”

Spanning nearly every decade of Zonker’s artistic practice, the exhibit showcases his unique styles, ranging from tight, pencil-drawn abstractions, to more robust and flowing self portraits in oil.

The sheer experimentation and breadth of the collection would lead an unknowing onlooker to believe they had stumbled upon a group exhibit, not one cast from a single artist.

“Those who visit the exhibit will see that he was always pushing his artistic boundaries, using different media and processes,” Plant added. “His main love was pencil drawing and his works are extraordinary. Some are quite abstract, some very realistic, others are symbolic and many reflect his love for life and travel.

“Samuella Wynne Palmer and Ruth Wynne Hollingshead, donors of the Wynne Home Art Center, were very special friends and supporters of Ken Zonker’s annual student art exhibit and sale at SHSU,” Plant continued. “It is very special to see their childhood home now filled with Ken Zonker’s art. Many collectors have generously loaned all of the pieces now on exhibit. It is a beautiful show, one of the best ever, I believe.”

Born in Olney, Texas, in 1941, Zonker spent his early years in in Venezuela, where his parents worked as missionaries. The rugged peaks of the Andes Mountains operated as a perfect backdrop for a young painter’s eye and the color and vivid shapes that he likely gleaned there is that of an artist’s perfect dream, which now shows through in his vibrant work.

For his many students, Zonker was a passionate and caring professor. Known to be a hands-on teacher, Zonker would discuss fundamentals with each pupil as they worked, pushing them to improve their craft and technique in each assignment.

“His teaching style was very personal and very good,” SHSU art major Travis Townsend told The Houstonian during a 2002 interview. “He would go up to his students as they were making their artwork and discuss with them, one-on-one, how they could make the artwork better.”

“He was very into his students,” SHSU art minor Lizzy Lynn also told the Houstonian. “He pushed their creativity in a fun way. He never put us down. That man made me better.”

Zonker also left his mark on the faculty and staff at Sam Houston with his dedication to teaching, coupled with an unending drive to improve his own craft.

“Whenever I meet alumni of the art program from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, they always mention Ken as someone who had an impact on their lives,” SHSU professor and chair of the Art Department Michael Henderson said. “He also had a big influence on the art faculty who taught with him and I count myself as one of those people. I’m glad I got a chance to know him in my first year at SHSU before he passed away.”

“Ken continues to teach through the students he inspired as they are now teachers and artist themselves, along with the scholarship in his honor that is given each year to a Sam Houston State University art student,” Plant added. “I was fortunate to be his student and his friend and it was an honor to help put together this wonderful show. It’s a must-see for both longtime admirers and those who will experience his art for the first time.”

With the exhibition beginning tonight, an opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call (936) 291-5424 or visit www.thewynnehome.com.