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A Complicated "America"

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Warren Kimble Warren Kimble

Shelburne, Vermont - May 12, 2008

Inside the Shelburne Museum's distinctive round barn -- you'll find a much smaller version of it.

"I'm so proud to be here," says Warren Kimble. "We have such great architecture."

The Brandon artist takes inspiration from the Vermont landscape. Cows and other animals are friendly and comforting.

"It's all about Vermont," he explains.

The former schoolteacher started selling what he calls contemporary folk art about 25 years ago -- launching an empire of prints, wallpaper, and other decorations. A retrospective show called "Warren Kimble's America" kicks off the Shelburne Museum's season on Sunday, May 18. It includes dozens of his familiar designs, but also, much more somber images.

"As an artist, one must grow," says Kimble.

Three years ago, Kimble started a series called "The Widows of War." Empty dress forms mourn soldiers killed in the Iraq conflict. The collection is dark, born from the artist's growing frustration with the mounting death toll.

"I'm hopeful, now, with the new election coming up," he says.

Canvas re-builds the flag, with a fragmented star and stripes made of palm prints and helmets on crosses that Kimble says represent the human cost of conflict. He hopes his work sends a powerful anti-war message.

"That I hope we don't have too many more wars or that we can avoid them."

The flag also inspired a piece that's deeply personal to Kimble. A tribute to his son Chris, who died of AIDS.

"I lost a son. This was painted shortly before he passed away," says Kimble.

A gold star, as it does for military families, stands for loss.

"He was not in the service. So I don't want anyone to think that. But that's what it represents," he explains.

"The show's title, 'Warren Kimble's America,' was really deliberate, because it shows the full range of the experience of being an American. Both the sweet and nostalgic, but also the troubling and difficult parts of being in this country," says Shelburne Museum Director Stephan Jost.

Now in his seventies-- but with an energy of a man half that age-- Kimble is a big booster for Vermont tourism and culture. He doesn't want his fans to think his foray into weighty issues means he's gotten pessimistic.

"I'm who I am and where I am and still love where I am. But one must express how one feels. And this is my way to express that," explains Kimble.

Some topics may make his heart heavy, but Warren Kimble promises his eye and paintbrush will always return to what brings joy to him, and so many others... stylizing the beauty around us.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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