Multi-Talented Artist Lends Photo for Guild Contest

Gail Kolenda peruses one of the portraits she’s currently working on in her at-home studio.

El Vaquero, the photograph by Gail Kolenda, was used as inspiration for the SaddleBrooke Fine Arts Guild’s One Image, No Limits contest.

LaVerne Kyrss

When Gail Kolenda was about 10, she got bitten by the art bug and has never stopped creating since. “My father was a great artist in his private life and I loved his work, so I started drawing. I took art classes in high school and majored in studio art and theater in college,” she explained. “Art provides me an escape. I can take what I see in the world around me and interpret it without all the surrounding noise.”

But needing to earn a living, Kolenda went to work for AT&T. Meanwhile, she branched out into crafts to sustain her need for creativity. She owned a porcelain china business in the 1980s, where she created custom designs. Once her kids were out of the house, Kolenda picked up her watercolor brushes and studied Chinese brush painting. “I dabbled in a lot of things. I like the experience of trying new media,” she noted.

In 2001, Kolenda began exploring what she could create using electronic tools. “I took classes in photoshop and computer design. That was the beginning of my interest in using photography for art,” she said.

In 2006, Gail and Bob Kolenda bought a home in SaddleBrooke. The Bucks County, Pa. native noted that they came here to experience a whole new world, in an environment they’d never experienced. One of the first things she did was join the SaddleBrooke Fine Arts Guild. “I’ve been involved in various aspects of the Guild. In addition to painting again, I taught classes both in SaddleBrooke and in the surrounding community in a variety of media as well as served on the board and in various capacities for a number of years,” she said. “I love introducing people to art. We all have an ability to be creative. The trick is to find out what sparks your interest,” Kolenda added.

For the Guild’s most recent contest, Kolenda went through her extensive photo archives, searching for a submission that could be used as the reference shot. “I was looking for something that showed a flavor of Tucson and would be interesting for the artists to use. I took the selected photo at the first rodeo we’d ever attended. I had my camera with me and took photos all day. I was glad to see the variety of interpretations,” she said.

“The pandemic’s been difficult for all of us and the contest helped to encourage a number of people. I was glad to play a part,” she said.

Kolenda noted that she explored online art classes while they mostly stayed home during the past 18 months. “Experiencing the pandemic changed my art,” she said. “I’ve been taking a weekly online class in portraiture. The classes are taught by artists from around the world and feature a variety of techniques and media. It’s given me a chance to refresh and hone skills I learned in school and to explore new skills and new approaches. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to begin sharing what I’ve learned as we ramp up classes in the Guild here in SaddleBrooke,” she added.

“Art is a part of your very soul. It’s just waiting to be discovered. Drawing, painting, cooking, whatever. Just try something that gives you license to be creative. Don’t be afraid. I love being there when someone discovers the joy of creativity,” she summed up.

For more information about the Guild, visit their website at