(Artwork above: Orphic Oxford by Kelly Thiel)
Kelly Thiel’s passion for creativity starts on a small farm in Georgia for the first few years of her life. With nothing much to do, she says she learned how to entertain herself by making mud pies in the dirt. Her mother taught her about plants and gardening and art, while her father taught her and her brother how to ride a horse. At the age of 11, she moved to Virginia Beach to enjoy its sandy beaches and ocean front lifestyle until her early 20s. At Virginia Tech she got a degree in interior design eventually moving to Charleston, South Carolina where she broke from her corporate life.
Kelly and her mother enrolled in an introductory pottery course at the Gibbes Museum and that was when she realized that clay was the perfect medium for her (at the time).
After spending the first nine years focusing on wheel-thrown and slab-built pottery, and only making sculpture on the side, Kelly changed her focus to only working on figurative sculpture in 2009. After the death of her mother, she felt a huge creative shift in her clay and thus began her commitment to her sculpture.
But today you’ll find this delightful woman has many talents: from mixed media, bronze and sculpture and even co-founding a studio in Bend for creatives, The Wilds.
Kelly’s recent exhibitions feature bold subject’s in mixed media acrylics that tell women’s stories. The work is gorgeous, imaginative and magical! She says she paints subject’s lives, that of their parents, stories secret/hidden or in plain view. She notes that the artwork comes from a compulsion to “get the stories out.” Her art, in a bold palette, uses over-scale faces with little expression, perhaps a slight smile, with closed or intently focused eyes looking directly at the viewer.
She draws the narrative script near the intriguing faces as text, some legible, others illegible, but to Kelly, it is mandatory to complete the story told
“Some people know me for my clay and others know me for my paintings,” offers Kelly. “ I think I will always work in both mediums. To me, I am simply working to get these narratives out in the world, no matter what medium I am working in. My artwork shifted dramatically in 2009, after the death of my mother and the birth of my firstborn, all in the same year. I became obsessed with each of our personal stories and the stories of our lives. I didn’t quite have the words to express these feelings; they were trapped inside. I believe that is why my creations require a bit of soul-searching.
“One needs to see that there is a backstory and possibly have an idea of what is being said. My subjects often have a slight smile or maybe a pensive look; what do you think is going on in her head? It’s part of the narrative, HER narrative. During that year of major shift in my work, I started including text in my sculptures and my paintings, as a way to lead the viewer, or even include them in part of the story. I kept a journal as a child, and again as an adult, but this time it was an art journal filled with colors and text and faces. The small scale of the journal became stifling; I needed to work larger! And thus my paintings have gotten larger, with more oversized and up-close portraits of my subjects.
“Both the clay and the paint are so tactile and physical; I love the movement of my arm created when I use a palette knife, and the feel of the clay as I squeeze it into shape. It’s all part of my own narrative; I am telling part of my story every time I touch the paintbrush or the mound of clay.”
“Kelly Thiel speaks eloquently of the courage and inner fire gained through her life experience; perhaps it is that awareness which equips her to so deftly depict the souls of women in her paintings — a lifted eyebrow denotes determination, closed eyes and soft face reflect a quiet strength,” remarks Billye Turner, art consultant and curator of Thiel’s recent Bend exhibitions. “The artist skillfully, subtly, tells these and many other stories in her colorful, over-scale portraits.”
In 2014, Kelly and her family (husband, photographer Charlie Thiel, two amazing daughters and three funny dogs) made a giant shift in their lives, and moved the family to Central Oregon. They packed up the dogs, two kids, two studios (one clay and one photography) and headed out west. In Oregon, Kelly says she found an easy transition and has been loving it ever since.
Kelly’s ceramics were have shown internationally in 2016 Shades of Clay invitational; Kunsthuis Gallery, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom; Unwedged, Pottery Northwest, Seattle; Menagerie, Baltimore Clayworks; solo showswith her paintings at Natural Edge Furniture (2016) and most recently at The Oxford Hotel (March and April), with another group show this past January, New Year, New Art, at Franklin Crossing, all in Bend.
The artist brought considerable prior experience to Central Oregon with exhibitions in Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Her work appears in numerous publications, and received Honorable Mention, Piccolo Spoleto Fine Craft Show, May 2007.
Kelly’s work has been on the cover of Handmade Business and was included in the 500 Figures series by Lark Books. She teaches workshops locally in Central Oregon as well as on the East Coast, where she used to live. She currently shows her work across the nation and is now represented by a gallery in the U.K. called Kunsthuis Gallery, which focuses on ceramics and sculptures. For three years now, she has taught workshops at The Bascom in North Carolina, and was a guest artist at East Tennessee State University in 2014.
“I am a sculptor and a painter and I go a little crazy if I don’t get time to create regularly,” she confesses. “But other favorite things to do are quietly hiking in the woods with my dogs to recharge, snowboarding and camping with my family and enjoying down time with the good coffee, beer and wine that Bend has to offer.”
The Wilds – Co-Working for Creatives
Kelly and co-founder, Wallis Levin, created The Wilds, where they have a hybrid coworking business that is dedicated to the creatives of Bend. The women are two friends who wanted to work together and create a hub of artistic energy for the community.
Kelly’s personal studio is at The Wilds and she can often be found there, teaching a class or working, and maybe even enjoying some of the amazing craft beer Bend is known for.
The space for artists and creatives is in the same area as GoodLife Brewing and BackPorch Coffee Roasters off Century Drive on the west side of Bend. Ithosts artists’ studios and desks to allow for many types of creating — from graphic design and digital arts to painting and clay sculpture.
The Wilds provide daily work space, but art classes and workshops in the evenings and/or on the weekends, exhibitions, meeting space and a general positive energy in which to create. They are interested in the synergy and collaboration that can happen when you get all types of creatives together.
Kelly says The Wilds is for fearless creators who need a place to focus on their work, while enjoying the atmosphere of other