Kathy Hoets: Pet Portraitist

Mar 6, 2023

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Kathy (nee Williams) Hoets was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to America with her mom when she was ten years old. They first moved to Malibu, California, then settled in Walnut Creek in Northern California, where Kathy attended public school at Los Lomas High School. Kathy was offered a scholarship at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, but determined instead to continue assisting her mom in the manufacturing business she’d built-up in Oakland. Among other responsibilities, Kathy did illustrating and design for the company.

“After years of living in and around San Francisco and working for my mom’s company, I could no longer resist New York City’s gravitational pull,” recalls Kathy. “I came to New York in 1985. I got a job as a Secretary, and after about a week my boss said ‘listen you’re a good kid, but you’re the worst secretary in the world, and I have to let you go’. Then I got a job working as a Trader on Wall Street because I speak Mandarin, but I wasn’t much good at that either. I went to Hong Kong for about a year to work as a Designer in the garment industry, and when I came back to New York I got a good job utilizing my talent in design and illustration. It was the 80’s, and I loved being out almost every night disco dancing and the whole Big Apple club scene and nightlife.”

“I met Pieter Hoets in 1991 at a cocktail party in a fancy penthouse on 5th Avenue in the 60’s,” Kathy continues. “He was a debonair international investment banker and offshore portfolio manager with J.P. Morgan, and had a very noticeable Dutch accent and European attitude. He took me and all my girlfriends dancing, at Au Bar, and – the way he held me, and danced, and kissed me – I fell in love, and moved-in with him three months later!”

“Pieter knew a lot about art and art history. In part because his family were renowned Dutch hunters – his father, who was

actually born in Indonesia, would even be invited to ride with the Dutch Royal Family – Pieter was fascinated by, and collected all kinds of pictures and sculptures of rhinos. And his favorite color was blue,” Kathy recalls. “So while he was away on a business trip I painted him a blue rhino with a banana tree. I always knew how to draw, but this was my first experiment with oil painting. …And Pieter was so supportive! Of course he told me he loved it, but then he also said it reminded him of Henri Rousseau, and told me I had real talent, and encouraged me to continue painting. I started to study art history and focus on the techniques of the masters.

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“In 1992, Pieter was offered a position in Geneva – and we spent the next five years traveling around Europe,” Kathy smiles.


“Pieter got called back to New York in 1997,” Kathy explains. “I didn’t want to live in the City – partly because of our English Yellow Lab, Winnie – and only wanted to get a place in Connecticut. Pieter kind of threw out his demand that I would have to find a stone house with a pond, no more than 50 miles from Manhattan, and only then, he would make it my wedding gift…and the first weekend we went looking we found this Frasier Peter stone house, with a swimming pool, in New Canaan! It was perfect for us – and for Winnie! I started to take a lot of classes at Silvermine, and I learned more about different techniques. …Then, in 2001, our son Erik was born – and for at least a few years my painting took a back seat to being a full-time mom!

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When JPMorgan merged with Chase a few years later, Pieter decided it was time to retire – and the family moved for a two-year stay in Bali! “It was paradise. We lived in the middle of the Ubud monkey forest, and our garden had an enormous wrap-around cage with a dozen monkeys, two iguana, three peacocks, a bunch of rabbits and hamsters, and many exotic birds in-residence. We were lucky to get the chance to do it before it was time for Erik to start school,” Kathy recounts. “And then, when we returned to New Canaan, because Pieter was mostly retired, aside from some consulting work, he became the totally-involved dad. Pieter hadbeen a soccer player and a runner – he ran a 3:08 in the 1984 New York City Marathon – and he became a real soccer-dad, and tennis-dad, for Erik. The two were inseparable until Erik left for prep school at St. Pauls in 2017. And during those years at home in New Canaan, I resumed my painting in earnest. I won some awards at Silvermine and the Carriage Barn, and even started to sell some of my paintings on steel of elephants, rhino and koi.”

Then, suddenly, late one night in 2017, while Erik was away at St. Pauls, Pieter died of a heart attack outside their New Canaan home. “We were absolutely shocked…and devastated. We had quite a life together!,” Kathy recalls. “But when Erik asked if he should take a semester hiatus from prep school, I told him it would be better for him to stay in school, with his friends and his support system there. He was doing very well there and I didn’t see what good it would do for him to stay around with me. He’s a very good student, and was the Captain of the Varsity Tennis Team at St. Pauls, and now he’s a Junior at Georgetown and doing very well there.” About her own journey Kathy continues, “It took me two aimless years to get myself going again.”

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“Late in 2019, a woman who’d purchased one of my elephant paintings years before, called and asked if she could come to my studio. When she visited, she asked if I could paint her husband’s dog,” Kathy recalls. “I’d always loved painting animals. The first painting I ever did as a kid was of a horse. But I’d never painted a dog. She said ‘If you can paint an elephant you can paint a dog’, and I figured it was worth a try. I asked her

to send me a few photographs, and as soon as I got a look at the snapshots of the dog, I realized how different the task of painting someone’s pet is from painting iconic representations of an animal, as I had done in the past. In every picture she sent, the dog’s tongue was hanging out. I spent some time on the phone talking with her about the dog. I had to relate to the dog, in order to understand that the tongue wag was a part of its personality. To paint a pet, I have to understand the animal. …She called me after I sent her the portrait, to tell me

her husband cried when she gave it to him!”

“And then just before covid, I was in Miami visiting with friends, and when I was talking about having done my first commission, I got the next request to paint a dog,” Kathy says, as if she’s still a little amused by the whole experience. “And when I returned to New Canaan, an old client of Pieter’s got in touch with me to say he’d seen the portrait I’d done that I’d posted on Facebook, and asked if he could commission portraits for each of his six dogs for the wall of his Manhattan townhouse! He hung all six portraits together on one wall and tells me he likes to look at that collection more than the multi-million dollar masterpieces he has around the rest of the house!”

In the past three years, with almost no marketing, Kathy’s dogs and cats have become something of a phenom. She’s completed over 50 commissions, even including a few painted in memoriam. “I’m trying to channel the dog,” Kathy explains. “Of course, it starts with a conversation about the pet, and I’ve done dogs, cats, and even birds, but when a client gives too much direction it confuses me. I want the client to believe and trust in me. I’m really just trying to get the right color from the client, and then maybe picking up on a few of the pet’s key personality traits, and how the pet makes the client happy. I ask for five to ten photographs of the pet…and take it from there! Every pet is different, and every painting is different. In terms of color, mood and style. I try to see into the eyes and capture the soul of the animal. I’m using oil paint, and the hands-on process takes about 30 hours or more for each painting, depending on the size. It can take me two to three months to complete a particular piece. I’m trying to limit myself to doing about 20 commissions a year, so each piece gets my special attention…and so I have time to live my life!”

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Indeed, Kathy is back in stride! She took the entire summer of 2022 to travel around Europe, including some splendid wining and dining, and visiting family, friends, and lots of museums. She’s planning a trip back to Bali to paint in nature, and she makes regular trips to Miami and Palm Beach whenever the weather gets cold in New Canaan. “I decided to move out of the main house and into the cottage on my property – where my art studio has always been. It’s less to take care of, and I have a real sense of freedom and the feeling I can pick up and travel whenever I feel the urge. And when I’m in New Canaan, I have a really nice balance between painting and spending time with a great group of friends I have in the community. My life is terrific, and I’m always ready for the next adventure!”


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