Kathleen Coogan is a budding artist on the brink of her first public exhibit, which will be Thursday, Dec. 12, at McCann Floors in Janesville.


Adrienne Tracy always enjoyed the artwork produced by the creative people of Artworking, a Madison-area program that provides career support for artists with disabilities.

So when she and Karilyn Essen decided to host a gallery night at McCann Floors, they chose 26-year-old Kathleen Coogan to be the first artist.

Both Tracy and Karilyn are art lovers and interior designers at the Janesville business.

Kathleen is a thriving painter with Down syndrome who spends at least one day a week at the nonprofit ArtWorking. Kathleen is inspired in the creative space, where she said she learns from other artists.

The young woman uses watercolors and acrylics to create landscapes, trees and other plants. In the bleak of winter, the bright blues, deep reds and brilliant yellows of her creations bring light to dreary rooms.

“I see art in nature and paint lots of flowers,” Kathleen said. “I can show people what I can do with trees and flowers.”

She said creating art is relaxing.

“I have control of the brush,” she said. “I have control of my arm and hand with good brushstrokes. I have less tension in my shoulder.”

A dream realized

Kathleen, the daughter of Mike and Sharon Coogan of Janesville, explored the idea of being an artist before graduating from Milton High School in 2012.

She shared the idea with her mom, who gently advised: “Art is more of a hobby than a job.”

But Kathleen, who now lives in Madison, persisted.

“I thought about if I could be a real artist,” she said. “I could design things. The idea grew naturally, and I thought I could keep going.”

Kathleen was accepted into the Cutting Edge Program, an inclusive college program for people with disabilities in Madison.

She took art classes there, and the program’s director encouraged Kathleen to start an art business.

Today, Kathleen sells her art and art merchandise, including cups, flip-flops and towels, at the ArtWorking gift shop in Madison. Rotary Gardens in Janesville also sells some items. In addition, Kathleen sells directly to customers at art fairs and has an online store.

“Kathleen reminds me of my ‘hobby’ statement often,” Sharon said, “now that she has a successful art business.”

Sharon said Kathleen’s business is just one of the things that makes her proud of her daughter.

“What really makes my heart burst with pride is that she has built an independent and happy life,” Sharon said.

Kathleen has a job at Panera Bread in Madison. With her three roommates, she also has an active social life and is a member of Madison’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.

Sharon said her daughter is not defined by a disability.

“She is a happy young woman,” Sharon said, “who has worked hard to achieve so much.”

Gallery night launch

Kathleen has shown her work with other artists at an Edgewood College display. But her show at McCann Floors will be her first solo exhibit.

“We are hosting a gallery night because Janesville is filled with talented artists in all areas,” said Essen, the showroom manager at McCann Floors. “We would like to share our passion of the arts with our clients, friends and family.”

The first event is Thursday, Dec. 12, at McCann Floors, and it will not be the last.

“We want to continue showing off the work of Janesville artists,” Karilyn said.

Kathleen is thrilled to be showcased at the premier event.

“I am beyond being excited,” she said. “I just love what I do.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.