by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected sources.
Such is the case with Jeanine Wyatt, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence. Wyatt was one of nearly 60 artists, writers and craftspeople from across the country who participated in Stone’s Folly, a two-day art festival held Sept. 29-30 to benefit Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in southwest Topeka. The event drew approximately 3,000 people.
Earlier this year, Wyatt, who grew up in Atchison, released her first book under her pen name J.A. Kiehl. Titled “Amelia: The Town and The People Who Loved Her,” the book’s inspiration came from an unlikely source, two little girls from Kansas City.
Wyatt, a docent at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, recalled sharing with the girls how she, as a young girl, often rode her bicycle to the bluff near what is now the museum. She would sit on the bluff at the edge of the Missouri River and dream her dreams in almost the exact same spot as Earhart had done as a girl.
The girls left the museum, and Wyatt never thought she’d see them again. She was wrong.
“It was about four o’clock in the afternoon, and we were almost ready to close,” Wyatt recalled, when the girls returned to the museum.
The girls excitedly told Wyatt that they, too, had gone to the river bluff and sat dreaming about their futures. Suddenly, Wyatt was struck with an idea. She would write authentic children’s books about Earhart, her longtime heroine.
“She was a motivator for me. She had goals, and she would try to achieve those goals,” Wyatt said, adding that she wants to inspire others to dream their dreams and achieve their goals.
While Wyatt’s first book is not a children’s book but a keepsake volume to display on a coffee table, she still plans to write children’s books.
“It’s my first published book, but it’s not my last, by any means,” she said.
In the girls’ honor, Wyatt adorned her booth at Stone’s Folly with a statue of two little girls. And if the inspiration to write books came from an unexpected source, so did the idea of applying for booth space at the art festival.
Even though Wyatt and her husband have lived in Lawrence for more than four years now, they once belonged to St. Matthew Parish in southeast Topeka. Sometime during their years there, they joined St. Brendan’s Community, a small faith-sharing group formed as a result of the parish’s participation in a Light of the World retreat.
Every week, they drive to Topeka to join the other community members, including Maureen Leiker, for fellowship and friendship.
Leiker suggested Wyatt should call Carol Naylor, one of the art festival’s co-chairs. Naylor said she thought Wyatt’s book sounded like a great fit for the festival and encouraged Wyatt to submit her application.
And because Wyatt did, Michelle Stuffelbean, a city resident who lives just a few blocks away from the parish grounds, was able to spend time at the author’s booth as well as all the other booths.
“I’m not a big fan of art,” said Stuffelbean. “I’m just really impressed. . . . It’s just amazing.”
Wyatt, who is also a painter, said it’s important for people to find comfort and meaning in art. She’s glad the parish hosted the festival and looks forward to her future participation in it.
“I think it’s great. I am so happy because I truly believe fine art feeds the soul,” she said.