Bitter dispute continues over Thomas Kinkade's estate

(CBS News) Thomas Kinkade, known as the "Painter of Light" is one of the top-selling artists ever. It's estimated that his paintings are in one out of every 20 American homes.

Kinkade died in April, and many were shocked to learn after sudden death that Kinkade's own life was much darker than the idyllic images he put on canvas.

The first public exhibit of Kinkade's work since his death in April was on display this weekend in Cape May, N.J., and his fans, 2,000 strong, couldn't wait to get a look, lingering over the glowing windows in cottages, castles and lighthouses that make up the artist's massive collection.

Patrick Kinkade, Thomas Kincade's younger brother, said, "(His painting) speaks to their soul, it makes them feel affirmed, it makes them feel comforted."

Patrick Kinkade came to unveil one of his brother's final works - a painting he says he was seeing for the first time. "It's beautiful," he said.

Kinkade never believed in the notion of the suffering artist, and this new painting depicts the same kind of peaceful setting that established him as "the painter of light," a phrase he trademarked. "Despite his frailty," Patrick Kinkade said, "Thom was still able to communicate in a very profound, positive way. ... My brother was a good person, but he struggled with his own demons."

Thomas Kinkade's death at age 54 from an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium began a series of shocking revelations. Within days, Kinkade's girlfriend Amy Pinto produced two documents she claims he wrote, giving her two homes, $10 million and control over his art. The documents are known as holographic wills because they were handwritten, but not notarized. They are now the focus of a bitter court battle between Pinto and Kinkade's wife Nanette, who had separated from her husband, but never divorced him.

Rick Barnett, a family friend for 20 years, believes Kinkade still loved his wife and would never disinherit his kids. "In no way, shape or form can I imagine that, that he would cut his family out or give consideration to someone other than his family," Barnett said. "His four daughters and his wife meant the world to Thom."

Kinkade's wife and children are still prominently featured in a new video tribute on Kinkade's own website, and the estate they built together is estimated to be more than $60 million.

At the height of his fame 10 years ago, Kinkade was mass-producing his art in factories, adding a few final touches and a quick signature, selling a framed canvas for up to $50,000. When "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer sat down with him, Kinkade had built a brand with a family values theme.

"60 Minutes": Thomas Kinkade: A Success

"We view my work and my cultural identity in a way as heir to the Walt Disney kind of tradition," Kinkade told Safer.

But that cultural identity became tarnished by Kinkade's 2010 DUI arrest and the break-up of his marriage. "Things fell apart and when they did, it seemed like they fell apart very fast," writer Susan Orlean said.

Orlean says the man everyone knew was acting completely out-of-character. "He was reportedly acting bizarrely in public, including urinating on a statue at Disneyland," Orlean said. "There was no question that something was going wrong."

He moved Amy Pinto into the family home near San Jose, Calif., and for now, she's staying put. A security team guards the house to make sure none of Kinkade's art is removed, while the courts decide whether the man who could work with such precision and sign his name with a steady hand could have signed off on the scrawled will.

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  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"