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Two Hearts Make Happier Art

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Janette K. Hopper’s work challenged the fine arts world long before she looked down and saw Charles Kernan holding her hand. For Hopper and Kernan, it’s been a decade of friendship that’s blossomed into a marriage. They both feel supported on every level of the many contributions they are making to their community and to each other.

“You can’t really create art in isolation,” Hopper said, “and it’s really fun to share it. I had created a large body of international work before I met Charles. But being with him makes me happy—and I am more productive when I am happy.”

Kernan, a chemical engineer and exquisite photographer in his own right, does not help with Hopper’s artistic process, but he does provide carpentry skills necessary to ensure studio storage space. He also has handy computer skills to show off his wife’s latest work.

“It was great to sit down with Charles last year and design the art studio in our backyard together,” Hopper said. “He built everything inside. We still talk a lot about design, and I think his photographs are even stronger now, but he gives me credit for stuff I don’t really do.”

There is a museum’s worth of work in their home, all from the hands of the imaginative, industrious and truly enlightened Hopper. As well, all are deserving of kudos.

A Fulbright scholar who exhibited her art at the Lincoln Center in New York City before she created more work in Denmark, Italy and Bulgaria, Hopper has shown her mixed media locally at New Elements, the Bellamy Mansion and the Cameron Museum of Art. In January, she was invited by another retired colleague to visit the Caribbean. The result reflected a series of vivid watercolors portraying the beauty of those islands.

Her luminous oil landscapes, such as “The Road Home,” which pictures wide cotton fields with an even wider expanse of breathtaking sky seem to glow from within. Hopper, former chair of UNC-Pembroke’s art department, loves light, and her new studio has many north-facing windows, plus cool and warm artificial lights. She says that color has many aspects: dark, light, warm and cool.

Some of Hopper’s darker, cooler creations depict unique prints of sumi ink, wood grain and chine-collé. At the end of this summer, Hopper will show some of these prints at a solo exhibit, “Echoes, Essences,” at the Nature Gallery of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Hopper really likes the museum’s new research room where visitors are encouraged to help work on a bona-fide scientific project. She also likes Ben Owen who shows his gorgeous ceramics at the museum. “Ben is extremely simpatico with me about nature and the environment,” she said.

Kernan also thrives in the outdoors and loves to share camping trips both near and far with his wife. The couple recently went hiking around Bolivia, NC, and stopped at Greenlands Farm Store for coffee and a scone. They found common ground with owners Henry and Heather Burkert who practice organic farming beside the store and sell free-range, hormone-free eggs and goat’s milk soap products. The couples liked each other so much that Hopper presented an exhibit, “Greenlands Farm: More Than the Eye Can See.” She presented an art talk, and showed her work including a Greenlands Farm-inspired watercolor called “Invitation.”

Both Hopper and Kernan enjoy many diverse activities which contribute to community-building. They met through a folk dance called contra, a square dance-like pattern of movements; Kernan swings his partners with great enthusiasm. In his 32 years in Wilmington, he helped shape the Railroad Museum and Wilmington’s official bicycle transportation plan. He has led kayaking trips for the Sierra Club and for the Adventure Company out of Southport.

Vacations for Kernan and Hopper mean camping, which may include hiking, cycling, and kayaking. They like to build campfires and Hopper makes her own sumi ink from the campfire coals. She finds inspiration outdoors for her paintings and print work.

Being prolific in their work is a given in the Hopper/Kernan household. They are up at 6 a.m., off to work by 6:30 a.m., back together for a healthy happy hour at 5 p.m., more work until dinner at 8 p.m., and perhaps to bed by 11 p.m. But these two do know how to relax.

“At home at night, we sit on our back deck and watch the stars, airplanes and satellites go by,” Kernan said, “much like we would in some far away campground…art is far from our minds as we plan trips together. Although, every adventure inspires Janette and will come out later in her work.”
To learn more about this incredibly gifted artist, go to her website at

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