It’s a typical Saturday afternoon and from the curb it looks like a typical house holding the typical family—mom, dad, son, daughter—but slipping through the front door reveals something atypical: the TV is off. Well, the big TV in the living room is off—the one in the garage/studio drones through endless episodes of ‘90s sitcoms like Cheers, largely ignored, while artist Tim Jaeger works on his latest paintings. His son Jett, eight years old, done throwing the baseball in the backyard, puts up his glove and comes inside, pausing for a glass of water in the kitchen before padding down the hall to draw on the shared chalkboard between his and his sister Nina’s rooms. In a cozy nook offset from the central living area and past a closet door whose tallies and scrawling signatures chronicle not only the height of the pair’s growing children but every visitor to the house, artist Cassia Kite looks up from her stitching to smile as he passes then returns to her work—a pair of multimedia projects combining drawing and stitching and melding the worlds of visual art and musical composition. Three-year-old Nina watches them all, deciding for herself whether to draw, paint, play with the yarn or just do her own thing. In this first of a two-part series, SRQ peers inside the home of the artist family.

Left to right: Tim Jaeger, Cassia Kite, Jett Jaeger, Nina Jaeger and their painting.

"FAMILY PORTRAIT NO. 1," AN ORIGINAL COLLABORATIVE PIECE BY THE JAEGER-KITE FAMILY.

SRQ: Is being an artist something you can turn off? When you go home and assume the role of parent, are you still in artist mode? Kite: We’re to the point in our careers where there really is no divide between the studio and the life—life and art are hand-in-hand so the kids see and are completely surrounded by that. Then they have the confidence to go and do the physical act of creating. When Tim’s in the studio and he’s using paint, for example, we have the easel set up for the kids. So Nina will often times come in and ask what color he’s using and then she has her own thing going on and I’m very surprised, being as young as she is, that she will do it for 30 minutes. It’s beautiful to watch because it’s such an innocent relationship. Jaeger: They’re seeing us creating things from start to finish and it demonstrates that they can make something from scratch. We demonstrate the ability to make things with our hands and our minds and that’s a really important thing that they get to witness growing up. Then there’s the product of it—they’re surrounded by these things. We don’t create glum, we create a sense of joy and that has a direct effect towards our children and us because it’s directly feeding us. You surround yourself in negativity then you’re going to be negative. If you surround yourself with peace, you’ll be peaceful. We both grew up in households with a lot of color and a lot of hand-made objects and a lot of good smells, good sounds, good images, so, for me, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Is art something the children gravitate to after being around it or is it something you’ve impressed upon them?  Jaeger: We’ve never told them what to paint, where to paint, when to paint, how to paint, yes or no when it comes to these things. If they like it then they’ll pick it up and if they don’t, they don’t. One thing I’ve never stopped my kids from doing is painting on my paintings. The reason why I don’t is because if they decide to paint on top of my painting, and I say no, then they’re going to think it’s bad to paint and I don’t want that. Kite: They’re both very confident in the art they’re making which is great because, as an educator, I see kids come in even in high school and they’re scared. Because it hasn’t been a part of they’re lives, it’s so intimidating. We always encourage—unless it’s writing on the wall. They constantly have a notebook and paper and pencils and their own storage places. They have a chalkboard in the hall. I feel like anytime a child is able to create based on their intuition and they use tools, like paint or a crayon, they’re going to be of a higher intelligence. They’re going to be able to get concepts that are a little bit more abstract than not. Jaeger: As a parent I like it because it slows time down with my kids and our communication changes. Whereas, alternatively, if you had the TV on all the time, we’re not interchanging ideas and communicating about our thoughts and feelings. It’s nice to have everything slow down for a little bit. They’re playing piano and I like that. As a society we’re losing our ability to be ok without a phone or a television or computer around us. That yes, you can play an instrument, you can write a story, read a book, paint a picture, you can go outside and play ball and that’s ok. That’s what we need to do more of and for me it’s not just about painting a picture all the time, it’s about just slowing down. 

Does art end up bringing the family closer together? Jaeger: Some of my favorite memories are of us going to openings together as a family. The kids have learned not just how to function in this type of environment, but also how to connect with a community of creative people. We’re very fortunate to have and be surrounded by such a positive cultural community that allows children to come to openings and things like that. Because of that, our children—and hopefully other children—will have a greater appreciation. We have to train our young people to support cultural activities. If we don’t show them then they’ll never know how to do it. 

Joining Kite and Jaeger in creating this family portrait are the two children of the household, three-year-old Nina and eight-year-old-Jett, who have their own insights into the role of art in their young lives. 

What, as you understand it, is the purpose of art? What is it for? Nina: Paintings make me hungry. Jeff: To entertain yourself instead of watching TV. 

Where do you find your artistic inspiration? What gives you the energy to create? Nina: I like books. I like to ride on my bike and drawing. Jeff: My family and Star Wars. Food gives me energy.