Clay artist Diane Solomon Kempler is perhaps best known in Atlanta for her large bronze fountain sculpture New Endings, which was commissioned by the Corporation for Olympic Development in conjunction with the 1996 Olympics. It was installed downtown that year and was moved later to Freedom Park in Candler Park, where it still stands.
In 2021, MOCA GA presented a retrospective of her work, From Then to Now: Diane Solomon Kempler, which included her photography as well as ceramics representing her long and prolific career.
Throughout her life, Kempler’s art focused on the ideas of transition and transformation in the natural world as well as in humans.
Kempler was a senior lecturer in ceramics at Emory University for more than 20 years and taught at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center for over 30 years. At Emory in the early 2000s, she collaborated with entomologist and Emory professor Nicole Gerardo on a ceramics course titled “Clay and Science: A Symbiotic Relationship.” The works that emerged from that collaboration were exhibited in Garden of Biotanical Delights at the University of Georgia Circle Gallery in Athens and the Turchin Gallery at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
Kempler died on August 2 at her home in Atlanta at the age of 85.
Born in New York City, Kempler received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Brandeis University. She later studied architecture at Harvard University. In 1963, she moved to Atlanta with her former husband, Bernhard Kempler, and established a ceramic workshop in the basement of their home. In 1971, she attended a workshop with ceramic artists Robert Turner, Cynthia Bringle and Paulus Berensohn at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina that expanded her perspective and catalyzed her work.
Kempler traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. In the 1990s, she visited Bosnia with the Atlanta nonprofit ArtReach, developing art projects with and for teachers and children who were traumatized during the Bosnian war.
Her most formative travels, however, were in India. Her one-person show Divine Chaos at Emory’s Visual Arts Gallery in 2009 drew from these experiences. Art critic Russell Cook wrote in Burnaway: “The ceramic works in the show are brimming with textures and amorphous forms, lightness and gravity . . . Her fragile and delicate figures gain an otherworldly quality — hybrids of time and space, between our here-and-now and another. The artistic act becomes an intercessor between heaven and Earth. This, I think, is the essence of Kempler’s India and the art she found there.”
In Ceramics magazine, Dorothy Joiner wrote that Divine Chaos “reveals a genuine empathy for the paradox inherent in Indian life, its cacophonous daily grind, the obverse of a mystical richness.”
In 2011 and 2012, Kempler returned to India as a Fulbright-Nehru senior researcher in ceramics, studying hand-building clay techniques in small rural villages. She expanded her research during multiple residencies at the Sanskriti Foundation in Delhi.
Her work has been exhibited in dozens of solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including the Nexus Art Center (now the Atlanta Contemporary), the Swan Coach House Gallery, AIR Vallauris Gallery in France, Wheeler Seidel Gallery and Greenwich House Gallery in New York and the Albany Museum of Art in Georgia. Her work is in the collections of MOCA GA, The American Craft Museum and the Museum of Art and Science in Macon, among others.
Her solo exhibit Hand & Eye, Visions of Myanmar at Emory University (2005) was inspired in part by her interest in Buddhism and her travels to Myanmar (formerly Burma) with Joan Halifax, abbot of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a group of American Buddhists.
Throughout her life, Kempler participated in residencies nationally and internationally, including the Denmark International Ceramic Studio Residency, The Hambidge Center, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, AIR Villauris in France and seven summers at Residency International Ceramics Studio, Kecskemet, Hungary.
From 1981 to 1989, she was museum director at the Center for Puppetry Arts and was the first full-time curator there. She curated several notable exhibitions, including Puppetry of China (with Roberta Stahlberg), Puppetry of India (with assistance from Dr. Melvyn Helstein and Alan Cook) and Celebration of African Puppetry (with Mary Jo Arnold.)
Kempler was a founding member of the Atlanta Women’s Art Collective and gave the first public program for the newly formed Women’s Caucus for Art of Georgia in 2001. Her personal papers have been promised to Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
Kempler is survived by her son Jeffrey Kempler (Tonia); daughter Renee Junge (Brenton); four grandchildren; and her brother Alan Solomon.
Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and Senior Editor for Art+Design and Dance since 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. Many years ago, she was awarded an NEA fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.