by Bill Thomas
San Clemente’s Kathryn Stovall Dennis is a versatile artist. She’s mastered oils, watercolors, murals, pottery, tiles, ceramics, illustrations, graphic arts, mosaics, as well as gardening, and cooking. Best of all, she shares her talents and skills through art shows, exhibits, teaching at two community colleges, for the City of San Clemente, and holds workshops in her own studios. She and husband Marvin, a talented kitchen designer, have lived in their San Clemente home for 33 years. It’s the location of two of her art studios, one for ceramics, the other for glass works, as well as the location for her six-week classes featuring clay and crafts.
Kathryn claims, “I think all people have an art spark. I don’t care what they’re good at. It’s my job to find it and to light it. I want them to see the value and beauty in art.”
Often, she requires her students to visit an art gallery or museum and write a review of their experience. “Many have never done this before and are amazed with what they learn,” Kathryn says. “Some have never spent time seeing what kind of art has been exhibited over the years.”
Stovall Dennis has wanted to become an artist since she was a little girl. Her first oil painting, which she still possesses, was of a bowl of oranges. She took art classes all through her schooling. She painted school murals of the history of California including Native Americans and missions. She even sold some of her paintings to faculty members.
After attending Taft High School in Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley, Kathryn earned a scholarship to the Los Angeles Art Center, planning to become a graphic artist and illustrator designing corporate logos and advertising. Simultaneously, she worked for Disney Studios and later Disneyland, where she was a portrait artist.
In the early ‘70s, she attended several schools, still studying more of the art world, including local Saddleback College. Moving to Orange County, she graduated from CalStateFullerton majoring specifically in drawing and painting.
“Back in those days,” Kathryn reminisced, “you needed a lot of foundation skills in the arts, including two and three dimensional design, composition, color theory - things that were required which are now electives.”
Along the way, she exhibited for Laguna’s Sawdust Festival, worked on tile murals for building exteriors and interiors and began designing stained glass windows for businesses and private homes from San Diego to Seattle – including our local St. Clements church, St. Michaels, Nirvana Surfboards, and El Mariachi. She especially recalls creating 50 stained glass windows for a physician in Palos Verdes.
“He had a fabulous house with a tennis court and swimming pool. He was also a friend of the then prominent Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley. I’ll always remember the mayor carrying a cake for me into the living room, and, with others, singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ What a thrill!”
In the ‘80s, besides her continuous glass projects, Kathryn also served with San Clemente’s design review committee. This effort later become the responsibility of the city’s planning commission; however, it led her to study other cities which emphasized art in structures, parks, and beautified cities such as Santa Barbara and Montecito.
“I actually developed design guidelines which were later adopted by the planning commission.” she said.
Among other locations, Kathryn’s glass work can be seen at the city library, Casa Romantica, Sonny’s Pizza, and the San Clemente Boys and Girls Club. When the weight of carrying heavy glass windows and attaching them to homes, became increasingly difficult, she turned to working more with tiles. She had already mastered the challenges of both design and application required by this specific art specialty.
An avid surfer, adding to her versatility in the art arenas, she also engaged in customizing surfboard art, painting mermaids, tritons, sea creatures, and waves for ocean enthusiasts. She also restored 100-year-old tile work on a Long Beach Recreational Park Band Shell. She will be working on other Long Beach projects as well.
In recent years, she co-chaired San Clemente’s coastal beach trail project with the Doreys, Stephanie and John. Having trod the old existing dirt and sand trail along the shore for many years, she created a number of concept designs which were used in the development and final political avenues resulting in the completed, now very popular, 21st Century version of the San Clemente Coastal Trail. Her tile work became part of the Trail and underpass at Mariposa Point.
She was also commissioned to perform design and tile work at the Vista Hermosa Sports Park, where on either side of the main entrance to the swimming pool complex, her diver’s tile murals depict a male and a female water athlete. She also designed the logo and principal tile work for Courtney’s Sandcastle. This prompted the unique fundraising strategy for San Clemente’s remarkable playground for able and disabled children through donors’ purchases of $100 decorative tiles, primarily painted by scores of our city’s children.
One of Kathryn’s current projects is the design of tile murals for the Friends of San Clemente Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Foundation’s Wall of Fame, where eleven of our city’s most famous athletes’ who reside in or grew up in San Clemente have been honored in different sports. Now, with the approval of the organization’s Board, Kathryn’s tile works will be exhibited in a prominent exterior wall location overlooking the Olympic-sized swimming pool at the Sports Park.
Regarding the tile mural of the prominent sports figures, she remarked, “I’m proud of every athlete who’s up there. San Clemente has raised a great crop. Kids can look up at the new tribute to athlete’s mural and imagine themselves in the tile renderings. They don’t depict either guys or girls; kids can use their own imaginations.”
Additionally, Kathryn continues her teaching of ceramics at Saddleback and Mount San Antonio colleges, as well as her own home-study-offered workshops for local residents. Her work can be seen in many art shows and exhibits, including those of our local Art Association and at the Mission Fine Art Gallery in San Juan Capistrano, and her handmade mugs are available at San Clemente’s Zebra Coffee House.
Stovall Dennis has won many awards over the years, including being honored by the American Museum of Ceramic Arts and for college faculty showings. She has also served as an art director for such activities. As to marketing her wares and talents, she has no official representation.
“I’m known as ‘the tile lady,’ she admits. “ All my publicity is by ‘word of mouth.’ My clients are usually so happy they tell others, networking just happens. Art is everywhere,” Kathryn confesses. “I can’t go anywhere or look at anything without thinking about how art is part of our world. Presentation of food, a freeway overpass, anything in nature, a reflection, and an expression – art resides in all things and everyone.
“I’ve been lucky to cross over and combine many different disciplines of art. The core has always been drawing, with easy segues into painting, illustration, glass, graphic design, sewing, weaving, playing, making, using my hands to create. I’m a ‘maker. I don’t ‘do’ art. I’m an artist, so lucky to be blessed with this talent.”