Kimberly Charles, owner of the Cate Charles Gallery at 147 Water St., Stonington, says that her love of art came from her father. One of her earliest memories as a child was drawing with him.
"My father would make a mark, and then I would put a mark, until we did the whole page; we used our imaginations – from that time on I loved to draw. We called it the "doodle game" and I doodled in pencil on everything — notebooks, textbooks and even in between the pages — it was so much fun."
Charles' father was in the military and her family moved 11 times during her childhood. As well as being a Wing Major and then a Major General flying and directing combat missions during the Vietnam War, her father is also an excellent artist who penned cartoons for the West Point Yearbook.
Though her early art showed promise, Charles decided to major in business at George Washington University because, she said, it was practical.
"I would be able to support myself," she said. She went to work in investment banking on Wall Street, and while there, authored a computer graphics program to plot financial data onto charts. "Back then, there were no computer programs, and everyone was recording the data by hand," she explained.
At the same time, however, she spent hours in museums.
"I collected buttons from MOMA and the Met and saved all of them." She also pursued art classes at the National Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Student's League. Even after a long work day, she didn't feel tired painting in the evening, and it was then, she said, that she knew that art was her real calling. "It was important to me to do what I loved and felt passionate about."
After eight years in New York, Charles moved to Old Lyme and continued to paint and develop gallery experience by apprenticing for several years in three local galleries.
Four years ago, when Charles was 50, she decided to start her own gallery.
"I have always wanted to have a gallery. Being an artist, I have a good eye for artists and always wondered what it would be like to be at the other end — as an actor wonders how it would be to direct," she said.
She promotes mostly local artists because, she said, "Connecticut has a wonderful pool of artists to draw from who paint contemporary realism."
Watercolors, metal and clay sculpture, photography and pastels are also on display in her large, sunny gallery with a hallway winding to another smaller space in the back.
As a gallery owner, Charles said she didn't just want to have a "boat and seascape" business, but also exhibit emerging artists who have developed a substantial body of work. She hosts both solo and group exhibitions.
"It usually takes about a year to build up a body of work to fill the front gallery for a solo show. However, when two artists compliment each other, I will put their work together in an exhibition," she said.
Charles lives in Mystic in a house that stands high on a hill. The light inside is very soft — ideal for a painter. There are paintings and sculptures everywhere by the artist and from her collection. Her series of paintings called the "Sunrise Series Across the Lieutenant Marsh" Old Lyme, is reminiscent of the Impressionists.
"For a whole year I painted the same scene at the same time of day to see how the light changes according to the atmosphere and seasons. It can be a beautiful warm lime green and then change to cool blues and lavender," she said.
She also paints large judicial portraits and commissions for the Navy. As an inspiration for the submission of the judicial portraits, which now hang in the New London courthouse, she painted a portrait of her father in his military attire. She is also working on a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, using the Old Master technique of glazing.
Charles has been able to fulfill her vision by combining her love of art, her talent as an artist, and her experience in business. She has evolved into a gallerist who represents and promotes local artists, and also seeks to enlighten and educate her clients.
"I want people to see that you can put abstract art next to a realistic piece and it can work," she said.
"A good piece of art can hang anywhere. Art is an investment, but you must choose what you love. My artists will stand the test of time."