A Colorful Family
Four generations of women from the Chappellet family showcase their artwork.
Thursday, December 6, 2001
Sometimes the history of a place can be read in the generations of a single family. The story of the Chappellet family is a quintessentially Californian story, involving ventures that seem to sum up entire epochs, from the Gold Rush to the Southern California aerospace industry to the development of Napa Valley as an important wine region in the 1960s and finally to the continuing cultural legacy of Big Sur.
One important thread in the Chappellet family story is their continuing artistry, from one talented generation to the next. On Friday a new exhibit of artwork by four generations of Chappellet women will open at the Big Sur Arts Center, which will devote some of the exhibit''s proceeds to local children''s enrichments programs, thereby helping to ensure the continuity of arts education that has long been a hallmark of the Chappellet family tradition.
The exhibit was curated by Lygia Chappellet of Big Sur, granddaughter of Sybil Chappellet, the family matriarch who moved to Pebble Beach from Los Angeles with her husband, Cyril, in 1961. Sybil and Cyril helped found Lockheed Corporation, and their son Donn, Lygia''s father, owns Chappellet Vineyard.
"I wanted to honor my grandmother," Lygia says. "And now my daughter, too, has joined the ranks of working artists." The Chappellet artistic lineage will be on full display in several different forms: Sybil''s lovely plein-air style oil paintings, her full-sized sculptures from the 1930s of children, including some busts of her own children; porcelaines and watercolors by her daughter Sybil Claire, who makes her home in Maui, Hawaii; the paintings of her granddaughter Carissa, who also lives in Big Sur; bronze sculptures and paintings by Lygia; and paintings and stone carvings by Lygia''s daughter Sequoia, who is a student at the Robert Louis Stevenson School.
It is already an impressive family tree of artistic achievement, but Lygia is quick to point out that Sybil''s own mother and grandmother were highly artistic as well. She recounts how Sybil, who is now 91, grew up in a household in which reproductions of classic paintings covered the walls, so that when she visited the Louvre in Paris for the first time it was a voyage both of discovery and recognition, a confirmation of the artistic "common ground" that has endured for over a century.
Each generation of Chappellets has clearly benefited from the experience and expertise of those who came before, but Lygia notes that it is also the younger generation that provides inspiration and ideas.
"I''m always borrowing children''s sense of composition, their sense of drama," she says. "I love the unselfconsciousness of the very young."
How can parents encourage their children to develop an artistic spirit? "With children, art starts really, really early," she says. "Art is about noticing, about looking for the aesthetic quality in one''s daily surroundings. When I''m with children I''m constantly saying, ''Look at that!'' Things that catch the eye--plants, the natural world, a quality of light, the specifics of shape, color, texture--really getting into the biology all around us. It''s wonderful to share visions with one''s children."
The terrain and communities of Big Sur also play an important role in the art of the Chappellets. For Lygia, the "hustle and bustle of daily life" is not conducive to the creation of art. She says that Big Sur "doesn''t move at the same pace as the rest of the world," and that it attracts people who like to "cut their own cloth"-an apt description of all the Chappellets.
Three elements of the Chappellet story--Big Sur, art and children--came together in 1988 when Lygia Chappellet and Erin Gafill created the Big Sur Arts Initiative. Following the devastating El Niño storms of that year, the two women wanted to put together a broad curriculum of subjects, from art to computers, that they felt were not being adequately covered in the classroom. Their efforts, which this year''s Chappellet Family Art Exhibit will help to support, have shared with local communities some of the Chappellet artistic magic that took root and flourished in California so many years ago.