Artist John Chappell’s Carmel home and garden are an eclectic wonderland of pots, plants, jewelry, paintings, photographs, lamps, sculptures, handmade furniture, ceramics and rescued cats. One of the cats makes a special meow to let Chappell know when she’s dragging him a cloth to polish up his many creations.
Fossils, shells, frogs, dragonflies, leaves, fish, lizards and snakes are just some of the design elements incorporated into fountains, pots, necklaces and more. There’s a primal feel to much of the work.
Chappell graduated with a degree in zoology from UC Davis, but found he had an aptitude for tile making, and spent more than 40 years as an in-demand ceramic tile and stone contractor based out of Carmel. After a snowboarding incident made it harder to kneel to install tile, Chappell turned to art.
“I was always good with my hands and enjoyed being a ceramic contractor very much,” he says. “It suited me well. But I had a knee replacement that put me out of business and art became my new go-to career.”
Starting as a nature photographer, Chappell combined his love for birds with large prints of them that he, at times, digitally altered to achieve an ethereal, painterly quality.
“I have a great appreciation for the natural things in this world,” Chappell says. “Animals are number one. I also love landscape and bird photography. I’m an avid bird watcher and in school I studied reptiles and amphibians. My ceramics work reflects my interest in the animal world. I’m more than a potter, although I make some mugs, but I do more sculpture.”
It’s an almost dizzying, while delightful experience to wander through the assortment of kilns, clay, glazes, fountains, plants, necklaces made of leather straps hanging with fossils, shark teeth and semi-precious stones, crackled pots with three-dimensional animal shapes winding around them, large “bamboo” pieces made from ceramic that serve as vases or bases for lamps, masks, sushi platters shaped like fish, shallow bowls with impressions from actual fish, ceramic clocks and sparkling colorful pieces of iridized glass washed over by the music of burbling fountains glazed in glossy, tranquil colors. One could easily spend hours exploring the pieces, including the Impressionistic-like photographs that resemble paintings.
Some of the creations are from pieces of leftover tile, or items that Chappell has repurposed into jewelry and bolo ties.
“I started jewelry making purely from the fact that I had collected a lot of artifacts I like,” he says. “I thought, ‘What am I ever going to do with these things?’ Someone suggested making jewelry and bolo ties and the next thing I know I was drilling holes in pieces and stringing them on leather laces. They were successful from the start.”
Chappell’s work is currently shown locally at Coast, the Carmel Valley Art Association, Mopane, Sugar Farms Marketplace and Ami. He displays his works at multiple festivals and art fairs, including the 52nd Annual Homecrafter’s Marketplace at Carmel’s Sunset Center on November 18.
Chappell is the former owner of Johnny’s Garden at the Barnyard Shopping Village in Carmel, where he threw pots for planting containers, assembled water features and fountains and sold succulents. At one time, he also had a large studio space in Sand City that allowed for bigger creations.
“I got busy making furniture while I was there,” he says. “I was very prolific at that time. It was also nice to be able to make a terrible mess and then walk away.”
Working from home has focused Chappell on some smaller creations as well as commissions and special orders. When pieces come off his potter’s wheel, which he works on while standing up, they dry slowly for a week inside file cabinets to avoid cracking.
“I keep making things,” Chappell says. “That’s what I like to do.”
While many local galleries primarily showcase paintings, Chappell’s work has gotten him in the door regardless of the medium. His ceramic forms are so playful, fun and intriguing that he’s becoming more widely recognized each year.
“My line has really matured along the way,” he says. “Now I’m pretty sure I can hold my own.”
And although he’s had to give up playing the guitar to make time for all his creating and traveling to various art shows with his partner Lisa Husby, they do make time to get out in the ocean whenever they can.
“Besides Carmel being an art mecca, and a good place to be an artist, the climate and energy of living by the water is fantastic,” Chappell says.
For more information or custom requests, visit www.johnchappelldesign.com or call 831/236-2503.