A working artist for the past 30 years, Michele Chapin, owner of Stonework Studios in Ventura, has successfully devoted herself to the local art scene, determined to bring people together through art.

As a community artist-activist, every First Friday, Michele has opened the doors of her gallery to artists of all genres and mediums, paying close attention to the unconventional and avant-garde. In doing so, she’s successfully created excitement and anticipation in the local art community month over month, year after year. When she isn’t curating, she’s carving. Working on as many as 20 pieces at a time, Michele’s energy is contagious.

Her current exhibition, “Old Hands, New Works,” is on display at the Santa Paula Art Museum. Michele says, “It’s a time capsule from my career of pieces dating back from the past 25 years and includes my new work as well.” The exhibition is shared with Ventura County artist Susan Petty.


Chapin’s work begs to be touched, something she’s not at all opposed to.

Each sculpture is colorful in nature, and each beautifully captures a level of sensuality when touched. Every one of Michele’s pieces is mounted on a stone base that completely rotates. To view her work is literally to experience it. “For some reason, we were taught that we’re not supposed to touch art, but I don’t believe that. Art should be experienced, felt, heard and touched,” she says.

Michele quarries and collects many of the rare and unique rocks used in her work from Southern California’s deserts. “It’s such a strange medium, but I am motivated by the beauty of the material.” Whether it was culled from an Indian medicine man in the Gold Rush country or a stone collected off the side of a mountain, Michele knows every story behind every single rock she’s carved.

When asked if she plans out and envisions what she’ll create prior to carving it, she candidly responds, “When I created the piece “Love at First Sight,” it was about my parents. I was around these two people watching them be in love. It was almost like I was watching a TV show. I can remember them trying to hold each other up, in love, while they were going through the process of dying. Those are all creative metaphors in life, and each rock naturally takes its own shape. For me, everything that I experience comes out of me in those rocks. When I look at these pieces, I can remember what I was feeling when I carved it. They just kind of evolve that way.”

After spending the afternoon with Michele, one can’t help but be inspired. She firmly believes that you are what you surround yourself with. If you consider yourself an artist, then you have to engulf yourself in the community regardless of the genre. “You have to be in touch with that artistic aspect of your soul. We’re misfits. We don’t have a choice but to create. Those types of people are the people that inspire me. We’re compelled to create, and when you’re in touch with that . . . whoa! Watch out. Bring it. You just have to bring it!”

“Old Hands, New Works” through July 14, at the Santa Paula Art Museum, 117 N. 10th St., Santa Paula. 525-5554 or www.santapaulaartmuseum.org