There’s a new kid on the block of Hopewell’s annual Tour des Arts.
Don Campbell, a sculptor who specializes in human portraits, moved to Skillman four years ago. He discovered the tour, now in its ninth year, in 2014. “I love the sense of community among these artists in Hopewell,” he says. “The tour is an opportunity to talk to artists and share ideas.”
When he lived in Canada, Campbell would visit artists on similar tours north of Toronto. “I loved going into their studios and watching them work and talking to them in the environment they created in. It gave me the chance to see what motivates them, and to buy their art. When I realized the Tour des Arts was only five minutes from my house, I knew I had to be a part of it.”
This year’s two-day self-guided studio tour of 35 Hopewell Valley painters, sculptors, ceramic artists, jewelers, photographers, woodworkers, and others is scheduled for Saturday, October 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, October 2, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and begins at the Hopewell Train Station.
When Campbell discovered the Tour des Arts, he was also drawn to Sean Mannix’s Highland Design Farm on Van Dyke Road. Mannix, an industrial designer and one of the founders of the tour, has a wood and metalworking shop at Highland Design Farm, a former chicken coop that was converted to artist studios in 1975.
Campbell had considered renting space from Mannix at Highland Design Farm, but no studios were available at the time, and Campbell found an ideal location right on Hopewell’s Broad Street. In what had previously been an antiques store he put in a new wood floor, painted the walls, added a small kitchen, and refurbished the bathroom.
Located between Ruth Morpeth Gallery — she is another of the tour’s founders, along with Mannix and jeweler Beth Ann Judge — and the studios of tour artists Armando Sosa and Karen McLean Peterson, Campbell’s sparkling new gallery comes to life with his large sculptures on pedestals and framed photographs hanging on walls.
The sculptor, who also runs a graphic design studio from the rear of the gallery (his workshop is in a room behind his office), was so exciting about joining the tour, he donated his services to help market it. In addition to ads in local publications and brochures that have been distributed in advance of the event (previously, maps of the Tour des Arts were only available the day of the tour or as downloadable PDFs; this year’s brochure, with a 2,500 print run, can be picked up at libraries and other public venues),
Campbell has worked on creating a website that includes images, bios, and videos of the artists at work. In some cases he even photographed artwork for artists who did not have jpegs to submit.
“I set the standards high,” he says. “I wanted everyone to see how fantastic the tour is.”
“The tour will be my launch in this new location,” Campbell adds.
The Toronto native made his first foray into sculpture while in high school. His 92-year-old mother, who lives in Toronto, still has those abstract works in metal and Plexiglas. “I really liked sculpting, but didn’t want to be a starving artist so I took commercial art classes,” he says. Although he could have gone to the Art Institute of Ontario on scholarship, he chose to work instead when offered a job producing catalogs for a consumer distribution company in the 1970s.
When Campbell was 27, the company started a division in the U.S., and in 1976 he was offered a position in Secaucus, living in the basement apartment of his boss’s home in Lake Hopatcong. He bought a house in Harmon Cove and married, but the marriage lasted only three years. In 1982 he started his own design firm. Soon after he was feeling disenchanted, seeking a creative outlet, and took a course that changed his life. He remembers the name of the course being “Doing What You Love.”
“The most important thing I took away from the course was, ‘Add one thing to your life: the word ‘and,’” he says. “I can be a graphic designer and a sculptor.” He immediately began taking classes in sculpting in clay and has continued sculpting for 23 years, balancing the bill-paying work with the work that brings him pleasure.
Campbell met his second wife, Ghazal, a psychotherapist with a practice in Princeton, 36 years ago, and they have been married for 26 years.
“I like to sculpt people,” Campbell says of the work he does today. “Compassion,” a large female head, is part of the PNC Arts Alive Outdoor Sculpture Project at 127 North Main Street in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Morrisville/Trenton painter and sculptor Kate Graves’ “Sturgeon” is also displayed. “I get a vision of someone I like and the character emerges, like a form of improvisation,” says Campbell, 63.
One of his heads, of an older man with a beard, is shrouded in a hood. “After it was finished I realized it was a character, Karnoman, from a book I was reading, ‘The Dohrman Prophecy,’ about a mythological religious sect from the past and a man in the present who comes into contact with them. Karnoman is the strict religious leader, a gatekeeper. He’s not a nice man. He has contempt for people, and I tried to capture that.”
Although he can explain it afterward, when he’s sculpting, “I don’t know where they come from,” says Campbell. “It can be a past life or a vivid image, but it doesn’t matter to me. I get into a certain zone and know whether I’m doing it right. It comes to me through my hands and keeps moving until the character who wants to emerge takes form. I like to see who shows up. These are mythological characters that come with their stories.”
Often, after creating a character, Campbell will write a vignette about her or him. Of a sculpture titled “The Shell Queen” (her head is covered with a large periwinkle shell and from her neck dangles a pendant shaped like a scallop) he writes: “The crowd of thousands fell silent in her presence. A heavy dark mood emanated from the vast sea of bodies and prior to her arrival low murmurs of uncertainty and fear filled the air. They knew there was trouble in the wind and they looked to her Majesty for answers and above all, safety.”
Campbell begins his sculpture in clay, using plasticine that doesn’t dry, then has a plaster mold made at a studio in South Jersey. From there, the final work goes to a foundry to be cast in bronze, resin, or concrete. He will show samples to tour visitors, explaining the process.
One of the heads still in clay on an armature is titled “Granddad.”
“I never had a good relationship with my dad’s dad,” he says. (His father worked behind a desk at United Cooperatives all his life. In his 60s he was laid off but not yet ready to retire. “It was traumatic,” says Campbell. He was able to get a job delivering mail for an ad agency, but unaccustomed to so much walking, had to get special shoes.) “I saw a picture of granddad in my brother’s basement and was struck by his strange hair and funny little mustache. I couldn’t get him out of my mind.”
His eyes, with wrinkles surrounding them, are off to one side. There’s a twinkle, for sure, a look of eccentricity. With his bowtie, he looks like he was a banker. He was not. Though only of gray clay, he looks like a redhead. He was not, Campbell says, though he was of Irish heritage. There are curls at the crown of his head. “He had confidence in the way he looked. He must have liked the way he put himself together.”
Campbell sent a photo of “Granddad,” in progress, to his mother. She was struck by the likeness of the sculpture to the face of her father-in-law who had died nearly half a century ago. Again, a character had conjured itself in his clay, directing Campbell’s hands.
Hopewell Tour des Arts, Saturday, October 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, October 2, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., begins at the Hopewell Train Station, 2 Railroad Place, Hopewell. A map of the tour, as well as information on all the artists, is at the website: hopewellarts.com.