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January 13, 2017

Letting the Color Tell the Story

How one artist lets the shape and color of her creations guide her

Story by Gail Greenwood Ayers | Photos by Marcy Merrill

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From a high-powered, high-stress career as a chief information officer at a clothing accessories manufacturer in Southern California to an artist living on the beach in Washington, Kimmi Kerns has made quite a transition – and she’s loving it.

An energetic, tall redhead, Kerns’ enthusiasm for life is reflected in the bright colors and happy themes of her tiles, trivets, coasters, magnets, bottle stoppers, ornaments, yard art and more.

There’s nothing dull or drab about the Westport artist or her ceramic art.

“What I am inspired by is art nouveau – the flowing lines, etc. And, of course the beach. I’m inspired by that – the boats, starfish, shells. … Right now I’m on a fish cycle,” she said.

In addition to the smaller items and to her unique hanging art, Kerns also creates custom tiles for area homes, including backsplashes, showers and stunning fireplace surrounds.

“I know that Grays Harbor was not named that because of gray skies, but there can be a lot of gray here and I always have fun bringing the color into people’s homes,” she said. “I just like to spread joy!”

Kerns, 57, and her husband, Larry Kerns, the CFO of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in Tokeland, live in a condominium in Westport. However, her workshop and show room is housed in a 15-by-40-foot shop at a storage facility in nearby Grayland.

Before she left California and her career, Kerns squeezed a few art classes into her demanding schedule.

“I knew I wanted to do something with art. I took classes in painting, drawing and stained glass. I was a crafter – sewing, embroidering and doing cross stitch. I even fused glass for a while.”

Then she took a ceramics class. While she didn’t particularly like working on the wheel, she rediscovered the joy of creating hand-built ceramics.

“Suddenly I was back to when I was a kid in school making clay creatures. I remember how surprised I was when the gray glaze became blue after it was fired. It was like magic.”

After exploring her new love of ceramics, she took the next step and began Havenwyld Ceramics in 2006. The couple moved to Westport the following year.

“I named it Havenwyld because I think you should make your home a haven in this wild world.”

On a shelf above her workbench, two kid-sculpted creatures from her youth serve as inspiration. “The transformation in the kiln is still like magic to me,” she said.

The last two years she has shared some of that magic with Ocosta School District students. First she made bowls and rattles with second graders and then wind chimes and bowls with third and fourth graders as part of an after-school grant.

“With clay, you can make things that are useful and beautiful. It gives children a sense of accomplishment and pride – and it’s fun! I want to share that joy and get more people involved in art. I also believe that art is part of a well-rounded education.”

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“Everything about clay is fun … except for the exploding in the kiln part,” she said with a knowing laugh.

“There are certain unbreakable rules in ceramics,” she explained. “And, if you break them, your things will break.”

Those rules include making sure that you don’t fire really wet clay or clay with an air bubble in it, she said. If you do, it not only can ruin that particular piece, but other items in the kiln at the time.

Kerns’ shop is every artist’s dream, with two kilns, a slab roller, scroll saw, pegboard of tools, containers of cookie cutters, shelves full of stock to paint or ready to sell and plenty of work bench space. It also mirrors her brain.

“I recently took a little test online to see if I was more left brained or right brained and I came out exactly equal,” she said.

So, while there’s every evidence of creativity, color and whimsy – Gumby and Pokey are also on hand as muses – Kerns’ shop also reveals a love of detail and organization.

For instance, she has rows and rows of tiny tiles in a rainbow of colors filed in plastic containers. Each she painstakingly fired and then carefully labeled on the back with the name and number of the glaze and the temperature it was fired at so she can seek the exact color she wants for a project.

Her delight in color is so intense that she wants to be absolutely certain that she selects the glaze that will give her the precise finished look she’s after.

As part of the Artisan Tile Northwest’s annual tile festival in Seattle in October 2014 she won an award for “best use of color.” The prize was the opportunity to spend a day at Status Tile in Seattle and have a mold of her own design created.

“Instead of handmade, they have an extruder so their machine can pump out 75 tiles in an hour. They made a mold of the lighthouse picture I designed and made 50 copies.”

She is donating 45 of those beautiful blue lighthouse tiles to purchase for $100 each as a fundraiser for the Westport South Beach Historical Society. She is the president of the organization, which supports the Westport Maritime Museum and Grays Harbor Lighthouse. The lighthouse tiles can be purchased at either location or by contacting the museum.

Throughout the summer, Kimmi will be available at her studio at 933 Grange Road in Unit 1 of the storage building from 1 to 4 p.m. each Tuesday, with the exception of July 12.

She plans to offer her wares at a craft festival in Tokeland in June and at the Westport Art Festival Aug. 20 and 21.

Her work can be viewed at the Westport Winery’s sculpture garden, the Harbor Art Guild Six Rivers Gallery in Hoquiam, and the Healing Arts Gallery at Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen.

She also plans to participate again in the Fall Art Gala, a juried show at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen.

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Art, Visual