This is an unpublished article, which I aimed to place on spec in the Oregon Jewish Life magazine.
When artist Kim Millen set out to paint kids’ faces at the August 1 Cedar Sinai Park Community Barbecue, she expected anything but to discover a home. “Meeting the seniors reminded me of my father and grandfather,” Millen said. “It brought me back to my roots.”
Interested in spirituality since an early age, Millen has explored various religions, always surprised to never have found spirituality in Judaism.
“Mine was only one of two Jewish families in our Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhood where I grew up,” Millen said and clarified that her mother converted to marry her father. “But we weren’t religious. I mean, we had what we called a Hanukkah bush—a Christmas tree with the Star of David on top. I have never met a spiritual Jew.”
Instead, she found her life’s purpose in art. A performance dancer since the 1970’s, she supported herself and her family as a Dr. Scholls sales representative.
“I went from a poor actress-dancer to a regular paycheck,” Millen said. She kept the artistic spirit alive by continuing her dancing career. Homeschooling her two children, now in their 20’s and “out of the house,” propelled Millen to teaching art to kids.
Though a promotion and transfer from Washington to Oregon in 1989 halted her dancing career, Millen continued to teach. In summertime at her house, Millen leads a series of week-long arts camps for up to 8 youngsters at a time.
“I love the kids,” said Millen, a 23-year West Linn resident. “We make art.”
Millen began to paint in the early 2000’s and showing in 2004. She discovered body painting by accident in 2008 when she was assisting her daughter at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts with a fundraiser for XYZ. As they painted faces for donations, people would ask whether they did birthday parties. Millen realized it was a good opportunity. She now paints, mostly on faces, at parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and various events. Believing that every body is a canvas, Millen has also done full-body painting as performance art.
“I enjoy getting a child or adult in front of me and my brush,” Millen said. “They pick a subject and I a creative outlet. Not only do I get to experience someone’s happiness, I get paid for it.”
The cultural connection she found at Cedar Sinai Park made Millen feel at home. Millen, who is 57 but feeling 30, said, “As I get older, I feel more and more Jewish. I want to be connected with Jewish people on a deeper level. Judaism for me is about being at home with who I am.”