VACI’s Kimes to share stories, life’s work for Women’s Club



Don Kimes is known to Chautauquans as an artist, teacher and mentor. But at 9:15 a.m. Thursday in the Women’s Clubhouse, Kimes will share another side of himself: the storyteller.

Kimes, who has served a 28-year tenure as artistic director of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, will tell stories from his past as part of the Women’s Club Chautauqua Speaks lecture series.

Kimes’ stories all have to do with lessons from his past, dealing with “creativity, interruption and discussion.” He hopes to engage his audience with tales of his days as an artist — but with a twist.

“Sometimes in life, unintended detours work out,” Kimes said. “That’s what these stories are about.”

Kimes said he first decided to tell stories in a more formal setting after getting feedback from listeners. One of his favorites tells how he acquired nearly two decades’ worth of paint: Kimes was working as a janitor when famed artist Barnett Newman passed away. Kimes was sweeping when Newman’s wife offered him the leftover pints of Newman’s hand-mixed red paint.

“All the reds in my paintings for the next 20 years were Newman’s,” Kimes said.

Stories like this, Kimes said, demonstrate how unexpected plans — like his short stint as a janitor — can lead to success.

He shared his story about Newman at a College Art Association event and was approached by a publishing agent. She was impressed with his storytelling abilities and is now working with Kimes to create a book about his experiences; Kimes hopes to complete the writing process by the end of next summer.

When Kimes is not on the grounds, he is teaching art at American University, where he has directed the studio art program for 17 of the past 25 years. Kimes splits his time between Washington, D.C., Chautauqua and Italy.