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Kinkade Defends Self but Says `Sorry'

In a letter to gallery owners, the artist acknowledges that he may have behaved badly.

March 09, 2006|Kim Christensen | Times Staff Writer

Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Lite"?

In a letter e-mailed to his licensed gallery owners this week, the artist accused "disgruntled ex-dealers" and a former employee of launching "media attacks" on him. But he also said he might have behaved badly during a stressful time, now behind him, during which he overindulged in food and drink and gained 50 pounds.

"If during this period I ever offended anybody, I am sorry -- anyone who knows me knows I always try my best to be loving," he wrote in response to an article in The Times in which some ex-gallery owners and others painted a harsh portrait of the self-proclaimed "Painter of Light."

"The good news is I learned many valuable lessons from that phase of my life," Kinkade wrote. "With God's help and the support of my family and friends, I have returned balance to my life. And if you have seen me lately you know I have lost over 50 pounds and I feel terrific."

In sworn testimony and interviews with The Times, some ex-dealers have accused Kinkade -- whose dreamily inspirational limited-edition prints are steeped in Christian-oriented themes of faith and family values -- of ruining them financially while enriching himself and his business associates.

They and others also described incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried and Roy; cursed a former employee's wife who came to his side when he fell off a barstool; fondled a startled woman's breasts at a signing party; and urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

In his letter, Kinkade said the alcohol-related accounts included "exaggerated, and in some cases outright fabricated personal accusations." He did not address any of the incidents specifically and has declined repeated interview requests.

"I've never had a problem admitting my own shortcomings and mistakes, but when people rewrite history or take events out of context to sling mud, that's downright wrong," he wrote.

The allegations emerge from arbitration claims filed by half a dozen former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners against the artist and Media Arts Group Inc., the public company he took private in 2004. Among other things, they allege they were stuck with expensive prints they couldn't sell and pressured to open new galleries in saturated markets.

They also accuse the artist of driving down the value of Morgan Hill, Calif.-based Media Arts Group before he bought it back for $32.7 million and renamed it Thomas Kinkade Co.

Kinkade and the company deny the allegations and attribute the galleries' demise to several factors, including a broad decline in the limited-edition art business and the 9/11 attacks.

Last month, however, an arbitration panel ordered the company to pay $860,000 for defrauding the former owners of two failed Virginia galleries. Kinkade had won three previous arbitration claims, although one of those decisions was reversed in February and sent back to arbitration. Five other claims are pending. Terry Sheppard, a former company vice president who is the "angry ex-employee" Kinkade referred to in this week's letter, earlier told The Times that he often went to bars and strip clubs with the artist and once heard him utter, "This one's for you, Walt," as he relieved himself on the Disney figure.

Sheppard, a key witness in the arbitration cases who in 2004 lost a wrongful termination claim against Kinkade's charitable foundations, said Wednesday that he did not buy the artist's explanations and denials.

"I think Kinkade is living in one of his dreamscapes," he said.

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