But there's no way the bottom will fall out, Carpenter says -- do the math. There are 60 million homes in the country, and probably not one in 1,000 has a Kinkade painting -- yet.
But perhaps all these numbers are beside the point.
"We don't sell paintings here," Carpenter says. "We just tell what we call 'The Thom Story.'"
"The Thom Story" is in part Kinkade's rags-to-riches saga. But it's also Kinkade's spiritual journey, a narrative that hits the mainstream bull's-eye.
Kinkade speaks of his "servant-centered" heart, his romantic disposition and his deliberate retreat from popular culture in folksy terms permeated with Christian platitudes. His philosophy, a consummate California blend of reactionary self-sufficiency and New Age "follow your bliss" idealism, sells like hot cakes in the heartland.
In books like "Simpler Times" and "Lightposts for Living: The Art of Choosing a Joyful Life," Kinkade frames his art in a mythic, pastoral past where people fly kites, bake pies and play checkers -- and to which everyone is urged to return.
If anyone has found a present that lives up to this illusory past, it's Kinkade himself. This self-styled "servant" owns 24 percent of his company's publicly traded stock. His good fortune -- a home and studio in northern California's Santa Cruz mountains, lovely family, international adventures -- is a key element in Media Arts' advertising. Like Martha Stewart, Kinkade himself has become a "lifestyle brand," someone whose public persona is inseparable from his company's products and profits.
This evening, in a television studio a few hours southwest of Placerville, I will hear "The Thom Story" invoked repeatedly during a live, three-hour broadcast on the QVC shopping network. And, finally, I will hear "The Thom Story" from the Painter of Light himself.
As I arrive, Kinkade collectors already are queued up outside the studio, hoping to glimpse the artist before he enters the set. Inside, Tom Howard, a Nashville-based composer with jet-black goatee and Svengali eyes, warms up on a Yamaha grand. He has the distinction of being the first musician to record on a Kinkade music label.
He began, he explains, by putting "10 of Thom's prints ... right on the piano, and started dreaming and composing." The result was "Reflections of Light," music as easy on the ears as a babbling brook. Two more CDs have followed. "It's been a great fit," Howard says. "I have a real affinity for what Thom is trying to accomplish in the culture."
Shortly before show time, the featured guest arrives. He's a burly, gregarious guy in jeans and a well-cut blazer. His hair, once unruly, has been moussed into submission. He gobbles pizza, then chats hurriedly while a makeup artist burnishes his tan.
"I just got back from Guatemala ... trying to rescue some children," he says. Kinkade is working with World Vision, a Christian relief group planning a mission on the edge of a landfill where destitute people live. "You're talking 6-month-old babies with newspapers for diapers. You should see these kids. They'll break your heart," he says.
As we talk, Kinkade says little that I haven't already read or heard. Occasionally, though, a more mischievous Kinkade peers from behind the official mask, the one who enjoyed motorcycle sprees, railcar-hopping adventures and other risky outings that contrast starkly with the sedate life extolled in his paintings and books. But for the most part, he offers rote recitations about faith, family and good deeds.
He recounts, for instance, a much-told story about the epiphany he had while studying art at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1970s, when he realized the spiritual bankruptcy of modernism.
Oozing sarcasm, Kinkade trashes the defiant credos of artists like Picasso and Dali, in his mind selfish humans without a whit of civic consciousness. "The cultural luminaries we call artists," he says with disgust.
Kinkade says he rejected his teachers' ideas, found God, and soon found his calling as an altruistic artist bestowing hope, joy and happiness. "Unlike books or movies or a piece of music, which can touch your heart and pretty soon you forget about it, a painting is forever."
On the air, while Kinkade praises the Lord, QVC host Lisa Mason pushes the products. "If you love Impressionism, this is the painting for you!" she says of one of Kinkade's "plein airs" -- a series of quickly wrought street scenes and landscapes. As the more costly luminous lithographs come up for sale, the artist pays them the ultimate compliment in the Kinkade firmament: They are, he says, "as close as you can come to an original painting."