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Because Kirkland Women Have the Tools: Kate Emlen K ’72


As a psychoanalyst working with patients or as a painter facing a canvas — she’s practiced both careers for decades — Kate Emlen K’72, P’14 engages in a dialogue.

The ultimate goal with patients is for them to discover their potential and desire for what they want in their lives. It’s the dialogue and relationship between the analyst and patient that gets them there, she explained. 

“My job in the session is to help them tap into that and define it,” Emlen said. “When I'm in front of a blank canvas, in a sense, it's a very similar process, because now my dialogue is with a blank canvas, and really, with myself.” 

An oil painter who works mostly in landscape, she’s interested in the craft of painting, in color and spatial relationships, and, as she puts it, “trying to communicate my intuition in the external realities of the things that I love, like trees and rocks and saltwater.” Emlen lives in Vermont and summers in Maine, and those environments define her work.

She has exhibited in scores of venues, galleries, and shows. Among other distinctions, one of her paintings, “Secreted,” was selected in 2020 as part of Art in the Embassies program. It is now on display in the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia. She’s been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the International School of Art, Montecastello di Vibio, Umbria, Italy, among others.

Her roots in art reach back to Kirkland. A literature major, Emlen discovered a love for the physical side of reading — typography, paper, color — and as a senior decided to go into book design. Her friend Richard Nelson ’72 introduced her to the Hamilton letterpress shop in the basement of the library, where she spent hours happily setting type and printing.

After graduation, she took an apprenticeship with a letterpress master in England, then earned a master’s in graphic design at Yale. After a 20-year career as a designer, she turned to painting in the 1990s, as computer layout replaced paste-up. This was as she raised two children and did her training in psychoanalysis at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis in Brookline, Mass.

“I credit Kirkland with the fact that I have an expansive way of thinking that allows me to have two careers,” said Emlen, who calls herself “a green-blooded, proud Kirkland woman” and points out that she was not only a member of its first graduating class but that she designed the first diploma.

She’s a painter and an analyst in part because Kirkland showed her she could be. “Kirkland thinking was, if you think it's possible, you can make it happen,” she said. “Even if it's not been done before, you can find that for yourself, because we're going to give you the tools to do it.”

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