Emee Henkel is a young Broomfield artist who is using her talents and passion for creating to uplift the LGBTQIA+ community and support Black Lives Matter all at once. At the tender age of eleven she is devoting a portion of her artwork to encouraging her often-marginalized friends and neighbors.
I got to sit down (over Zoom, of course) with Emee and her mom during that nebulous period between Christmas and New Years when no one is sure what day it is, and time feels slippery. We had a laugh about how that had been the case for so much of 2020 already, and it seemed weirdly normal to be doing an interview in leggings and PJs.
My first question for Emee was one that had been on my mind since we met at the PFLAG Broomfield Visibility Event earlier in the month.
What inspired her to start making art based on PRIDE?
It started with simply wanting to paint rainbows, which made her think of PRIDE. Also on her mind was the social action that so dominated the news in support of Black Lives Matter. It just made sense to incorporate both in a piece of art meant to lift up a friend who was feeling low.
The result was a brightly colored figurine of a dog, in every shade of the rainbow, with black on its ears to symbolize BLM.
The deeper message in her work?
“I know how some people feel ashamed, and I don’t want people to feel ashamed about who they truly are. Like, if they’re afraid to be transgender, I want to say don’t be ashamed! You are you, express your differences! And I want people to feel accepted, even though they sometimes aren’t accepted by their friends or their relatives, they can still be appreciated by other people that are allies or part of the LGBT community. And I just want them to feel welcomed in the community.”
“I wish I was this far into the journey at this age, right?” says mom, Heidi Henkel, Broomfield City Council member and PFLAG Broomfield ally. The social conversation surrounding gay rights and systemic racism has come a long way since the eighties and nineties, and it is remarkable to watch today’s kids growing up so much more aware and informed.
Emee has only been making her social justice-inspired works for about a year, but she started her artistic journey at four, and has not slowed down since. Heidi shares that she is “terrible at art” and Emee gets her skill from her grandma. “My husband’s mother is super artistic, and they love painting together, so they make it a family thing, too.” Her passion bloomed early, and her focus was unwavering. Even as a preschooler she was determined to do her art entirely her way, going so far as refusing to pause long enough to eat.
“We had to move a table over next to the dinner table so she could eat and work on her art at the same time. So, there’s this bar-high dinner table and her little, tiny table next to it, and we’re calling over, you okay down there Emee? Yes, she’s fine.”
Her artistic efforts were not confined to paper and canvas, either. Most parents might have been horrified by the mess, Heidi says, but when Emee started experimenting with what bread and milk would do on her little art table, they just let her go at it. “There’s more bread to eat and milk to drink.”
What led to her transition into PRIDE and BLM inspired art?
Knowledge. “As I learned more about [LGBTQIA+ issues]… I learned what pansexual means and what lesbian means, I tried to learn ALL of them. I still have a lot to learn about the LGBT community, like the plus? I need to remember those.”
Of the ten or so pieces she has made so far almost all have gone to new homes. The first piece Emee shares with me that morning is one she made to sit in the background of her mom’s City Council meetings. It’s an upraised fist with bold lettering: Black Lives Matter.
“I need an LGBTQ one, but we keep giving them away!” Heidi laughs.
Do you plan to keep giving away your PRIDE artwork?
“Definitely. I support PRIDE very much and I don’t want to keep it because I want to give it to people that might be feeling down about themselves, I want them to know oh, this little girl supports me.”
“I learn a lot from her,” says Heidi.
We spend a few more minutes talking about her artwork in general, whether she has taken any classes or had any instruction, (“No, this is all me!”) and the variety of techniques she works with (textures, colors, themes).
When Emee dashes off to find one of her PRIDE paintings to show me, Heidi pulls out a matched set of paintings they did together a couple days previous. During one of the local paint-together programs they were supposed to be following directions for making a snowman picture. But Emee is always one to paint to the beat of her own drum and said, why can’t it be a snowwoman? Heidi followed along with her vision and now they have a couple of very lovely snow-ladies. Heidi details the differences in their work, right down to how Emee made it snowing in hers. “She brings real life into art whereas I’m just going to follow the instructor, you know?”
It turns out that Emee has in fact already given away the painting she was thinking of. But she brings out a beautiful landscape piece instead, with an old barn painted in impressive perspective.
At eleven years old she has a lifetime of her craft ahead of her, and the experience she gains is only going to increase her skill. I cannot wait to see the work she produces in years to come.
Bringing our time together to a close, I ask my last question: Is there anything you want people to know about your art that we haven’t already talked about?
“Just that it’s very meaningful to me. I just want to help people love themselves.”