The Sonoma Index Tribune

April 20, 2004

For ages, a scrap of metal with just a hint of rust reflects sunrays in the sunrays in the supermarket parking lot, overlooked by a gazillion brown bag carrying shoppers until Laura Kimpton looks away from her grocery list, glances at the ground and thinks, "Art."

That's what happens when Kimpton comes across, what she calls "ground scores," a phrase she picked up at Grateful Dead concerts. Maybe it's a shed car part or a skate key or a grommet gone astray, but if Kimpton leans over and picks up junk, it's on its way to becoming alive.

"I find things, and then I give them a new life," Kimpton says.

She's an artist who is all about coming alive. She's exuberant about art and transformation. She's especially excited about making castoffs into collages. Some things she just comes across and others she searches out. One day her Isuzu Rodeo is home to old cigar boxes, a sewing form from the 1800s and a seemingly ancient wooden stamp block kit, all junk store finds. The next day they're in her Sonoma art studio, with words stamped on and images glued on, all on their way to being art. There's a giant roll down map of Africa, from a schoolroom long quiet, that she has cut bird shaped holes in. It's a work in progress.

"I like that it's torn and worn. I just add to it," she explains.

One of her favorite places for finding fascinating things is Sonoma Valley's estate sales. Two of her recent pieces incorporate estate treasures illustrations from a Bobbsey Twins book and ration stamps from World War II. For Kimpton almost anything can become a player in her artistic expressions. But it must speak to her, and it must help her say what she wants to be heard from her art.

"My art now will only be about who I am and what I think," she says about her creation. She shows a recently completed art box that started out as an old purse and now says on it: "You touched my house down." It is covered with scraps of wood and small rocks, and is swathed in caustic wax. Kimpton uses abundant caustic wax, a mixture she makes in an electric frying pan with beeswax and paraffin.

Some of her art is as tall as she is, six feet. Other works would fit in your lap, like another caustic waxed box that has the word "this = this" repeated all over it. There are ivory dominos pasted on and a hole cut in the middle where she has glued in a headless, two-inch plastic construction worker holding a jackhammer.

"This = this" is the epitome of Kimpton equals art.

When Kimpton was growing up in Chicago, her father lived in San Francisco. She would visit him every summer. During those visits she vividly recalls going to an event in Ghirardelli Square where children were encouraged to make art objects out of scraps of wood, metal, glue and paint. She thinks she went to this event from age 4 to about age 11 and remembers tables full of supplies and encouragement to make whatever she wanted. When she was little she made forts for her dolls to play in and other magical treasures. It is one of her fondest memories, and now she wants to create an event something like it for the children of Sonoma. The Arts Guild of Sonoma is sponsoring Making Art in the Garden, where Kimpton will have assembled mounds of recycled objects and glue. Kids will have a chance to go at it and make whatever their hearts desire.

"It will teach kids how to make art without art supplies," she said. "They'll learn how to take a thrown away object and give it new life."

Just like she does.

Kimpton has been putting in a great deal of time lining up all the mounds of material that will be available to the children when they arrive at the Pauline Bond Community Garden on the big day. Many Arts Guild artists will also be on hand to help kids with their projects and to encourage creativity. Kimpton is so thrilled that they will be providing a community service. She knows from experience that they may help young artists bloom, just as she did years ago in Ghirardelli Square.

"I got to do this and now I want to do this for the kids," she said.

Throughout her life she has tended her artistic fire that first sparked in childhood. She has a teaching credential and a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Iowa and a bachelor's of fine arts in art and photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. She also qualified for a master's degree in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco. She was wildly influenced by the German artist Kurt Schwitter, who created art from objects he found on the ground during World War II.

"He changed my life when I was around 16," Kimpton said.

Once she saw his work, she realized she wanted to be a collage artist. As she pursued her own art, Kimpton has also planted art seeds in young minds. She was the teacher for a class of at-risk kids at Delmar Junior High in Tiburon for several years.

"I understood them because I'm dyslectic, and I knew what it was like for them to not get it in school."

She then went on to begin a photography department at Redwood High School in Marin. She left teaching, and she and her husband, Len Dell'Aniico, moved to Sonoma in the late 1990s. Kimpton's main event became her life as a full time mom to their daughter Kiley, now 5. Kiley is already a master at finding ground treasures for her own art under Mom's magical tutelage.

Eventually, Kimpton became active in the Arts Guild of Sonoma and started her collage art again. She has an art studio on the westside of the Valley. Right now her art is thriving. She is selling steadily, with prices ranging from $500 to $3,000. Distinguished art collector Rene di Rosa recently chose Kimpton's work as Best of Show in a 400-piece competition. She also won a best of show award at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa.

"I have a good reputation for my art, especially here in Sonoma," she said.

She's been exploring avenues of self-discovery of late, switching her diet to raw food and having the mystical experience of swimming with whales in Hawaii. She exudes energy and optimism.

"It's scary to make art that you love because if you make art you love your inner critic gets louder and louder," she said.

But she's learned to quiet her inner voice.

"All my life I was scared of my vulnerability. Now I love my vulnerability." Kimpton said.