Years 59 • Resides & Creates Moreland Hills • Learned BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

Kimberly Chapman remembers well the moment she decided to leave behind her 25-year career in marketing to become a full-time artist. The fateful encounter occurred at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, where she was marketing director.

“There’s a woman there I really admire, Sister Diane Pinchot, who came over for lunch one day. When I answered the front door, she had a beautiful pot she’d made and had kiln-fired – I swear it was still warm when she brought it – and I looked at that pot and thought to myself, ‘That’s it, I’m going back to school,’” she says. “It was black with these beautiful metallic blues. I just fell in love with it immediately and thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ It was almost an immediate decision. She left after lunch and I called CIA.”

Fast-forward a few years and she has a BFA in ceramics from the Cleveland Institute of Art. And Sister Pinchot’s pot? It’s now in Chapman’s home studio.

“Heard ‘Em Coming Reliquary,” 2019; porcelain, glaze, luster; 15(l) x 8.5(w) x 6(d) inches.

Nearly as swift and certain as her decision to pursue art has been her ascension within the local arts scene. Within the first four months of 2019, her work had already been accepted into shows at Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls, Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights and BAYarts in Bay Village – and with good reason. 

Her porcelain work is hauntingly beautiful. It’s both eerie and elegant, as moonlight and shadows, and its unearthly aura captivates. Chapman’s connection to the clay and her craft is evident in every piece.

“There’s something about clay, there’s something about ceramics – it’s very tactile. You always have to touch it; you always have to hold it in your hands and feel it,” she says of her medium of choice. “It’s so personal. Clay is a very personal medium. … It has such an incredible capacity for memory.”

Chapman’s work is turning heads across Northeast Ohio. In fact, one of her pieces was recently awarded best in show at the BAYarts Annual Juried Exhibition. 

“I always thought if I could get best of show maybe just once in a lifetime, wouldn’t that be amazing?” she says. “The jurors for that show really gave me a vote of confidence I don’t think I had before. So, you start skipping around thinking, ‘Wow, this might be possible for me to be a ceramic artist and to show my work and to have a message.’”

“‘A’ is for Active, ‘S’ is for Shooter” Series (combo image), 2018; porcelain, glaze; average 7(l) x 7(w) x 5½(d) inches.

Messages are central to Chapman’s art. The piece that won was from her “‘A’ is for Active, ‘S’ is for Shooter” series consisting of three pieces named “Sitting Duck,” “Be Brave” and “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E Gas Mask” – costumed figures that represent children’s vulnerability and uncertainty at school that offer poignant commentary on the state of school safety. Other narratives include domestic violence and immigration. 

“What I’m most interested in is looking at situations where people are in a very difficult situation and how they survive. How do the asylum seekers survive these terrible trips they make to come to America or other countries in search of a better world? How do parents survive after losing children who’ve been killed in a shooting spree at school?” she says. “One of the things I’ve always been interested in is what’s left behind. When everything is over and finished, what’s left behind? What are the feelings that are left behind? What are the actions one might take with what’s left behind? I think I really like looking at struggle and human nature. How can you persevere against impossible odds or sorrow or loss?”

“Ghost Ship” & “Star Gazers” (combo image), 2019; porcelain, glaze, luster; “Ghost Ship” 24(l) x 22(w) x 6(d) inches / “Star Gazers” average 4(l) x 3(w) x 4(d) inches.

Chapman’s early success may make it easy to forget her art career is so young or overlook the fact that she earned her BFA not as a 20-something but at the same time she became a grandmother.

Her age and experience were assets. A strong work ethic and skills honed during her previous career – organization, writing, networking – have all helped her as an artist. She says she’s an advocate for education at any age and encourages others considering late-in-life career changes to become a nontraditional student like she was. 

“Go for it,” Chapman says. “If you have the opportunity to go back to school, take it, because there’s nothing like it in the world. It will expand your horizons and make you a better artist.” C

On View

  • “Observation/Conservation” remains on view through May 8 at Valley Art Center, 155 Bell St., Chagrin Falls.
  • “Emergent 2019” will be on view from April 26 to June 9 at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Chapman will also take part in related programming – “Ekphrastacy: Artists Talk + Poets Respond” – at 7 p.m. May 23.
  • “2019 Summer Mash-Up” will be on view from June 7-28 at Ursuline College’s Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery, 2550 Lander Road, Pepper Pike.

Mary Urbas

“Balancing beauty with the macabre, Kim’s nonfunctional porcelain sculpture centers on ‘what’s left behind.’ Childhood and ancestral memories loom large with a strong sense of home. Kim has an affinity for pure white, translucent porcelain clay because of its soft, sculptural and ethereal nature.” 

Mary Urbas, gallery coordinator and exhibition curator, Lakeland Community College