Painter H. Jenna Klimchak: Emotion’s Colors [elan magazine]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
Painting shown here: “Bicycle Series #2,” mixed media on paper, 30” x 22”
When Hwaja Jenna Kim was a child, her parents didn’t fill their house with toys. Instead, the owners of a small silk shop in Seoul, Korea, gave their six children crayons, pencils and paper to play with.
Young Jenna recognized the treasures that were before her. For hours, she would sit at the wooden table in the back of her parents’ shop and create fields of flowers, skies filled with birds and baskets heavy with fruit. Her friends loved those masterpieces, and often traded her some of their candy for one.
Jenna’s teachers recognized she was a budding talent and throughout her school years encouraged her to keep drawing and painting. But when it came time to choose a career, Jenna didn’t want to ask her parents to send her to art school.
“My parents worked seven days a week at their shop, and I knew it would be a hardship on them if their daughter chose a profession that wasn’t guaranteed to pay well,” she says. So Jenna and her sister Mija cooked up a plan.
“At the time, Germany had a work agreement with Korea and Mija thought that if I got a degree in something practical, like nursing, I could work in Germany and that would at least get me to Europe,” explains Jenna. “Once there, she believed I’d find a way to get involved in the arts community, and then I could live out my dream of being an artist.”
Jenna sold her parents on the idea of nursing school and graduated with a B.S. in 1974 from Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Meanwhile, her sister married an American and moved to Northern Virginia. In 1978, Jenna followed. “I knew I could probably find a job as a nurse and figured it was time to have my adventure,” she says.
She rented a house in Tyson’s Comer and landed some part-time work while studying for her certification to practice as a nurse in Virginia. She landed something else, as
“Several professionals had rented rooms in a couple of townhouses, and while I was studying for my [nurse’s] license, I got to talking to a very nice neighbor named Bob Klimchak who had just graduated from pharmacy school,” she says. “He helped me with the chemistry parts of the exam, and we really hit it off.”
The couple married in 1980, and soon after had two daughters-Mia, now 24, and Aimee, 20. They bought a home in Oakton and raised their children, and Jenna worked full-time in the maternity ward at Fairfax Hospital.
But she never gave up on her dream of becoming a painter.
When her daughters were in high school, she turned her large basement into a studio. She fled the well-lit rooms with paints, brushes and canvases and got to work dabbling in all sorts of genres and mediums—from pointillism to abstract expressionism, watercolors to oils. Soon she filled the walls of the studio, her dining room, living room and den with her art.
“I’m not a verbal person, and although I’ve been here since I was in my 20s and speak English fluently, I never feel like I can be funny in English. I always feel like people see me as very reserved.”
When she creates art, though, all that changes.
“I don’t need to use words when I paint,” Jenna explains. “I me bright colors to express myself, and I explore different styles as a way to figure things out. I can be witty, humorous and deep all at the same time. The art speaks for me.”