Stapleton was born in Rochester, Minnesota in 1952. He is the son of an ophthalmologist who practiced from residency to retirement with the Mayo Clinic. His mother has always been and still is very interested in art history. Even as a small child, Stapleton was exposed to art. He remembers scouring his mother's Antiques magazines looking at the paintings of "those dead guys" whose work he admired. In fact, Stapleton has always wanted to paint "like those dead guys." From childhood to present, he has single-mindedly pursued this goal.
As a child in school Stapleton drew behind his books. For several years he attended Shattuck, a boarding Military Academy, where he obtained an exceptional liberal arts education. To this day he is an avid reader and accumulator of "useless" information. In public high school he pretty much lived in the art room. He laughs at being dubbed "non-college material." It was while he was in high school that he sold his first pieces or artwork at outdoor art fairs. Stapleton dropped out of high school, obtained his G.E.D., and went on to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he became a neon sculptor. Tiring of this more modern approach, he left art school and transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Stapleton worked in the etching department of the university where representational work saw some respect. It was there in the early 1970's he met an artist, Charles Cecil, who was pulling a print of what Stapleton refers to as "a beautiful little figure." When questioned about it, Mr. Cecil told Stapleton that he had been trained in the old-fashioned method, by apprenticeship, to a formidable master R.H. Ives Gammell. Ives Gammell was old enough to have known and studied with the impressionist painters now found in the collections of our major American museums. Mr. Gammell, Mr. Cecil explained, kept a studio on the Fenway in Boston, Massachusetts. Stapleton wrote to Mr. Gammell and was invited for an interview with the then eighty-three year old man.
Soon thereafter, Stapleton went to work with Mr. Gammell drawing casts, or plaster busts, and the figure. He was assigned to Mr. Gammell's senior student, Robert Douglass Hunter, for the summer. It was with Hunter that Stapleton was introduced to outdoor impressionism. He took a great liking to it. Mr. Hunter also gave seminars in how to be a successful artist from a practical perspective. Stapleton often credits these lessons with his ability to survive as an artist.
After several years of this rigorous training Stapleton returned to Minneapolis. These were hard and lean years for him. He was painting long hours and making very little money - barely surviving. He had no car, no telephone, and no bank account. For awhile he lived in the grain elevator of a friend's barn in nearby Osceola, Wisconsin. Evidently she wished to clean it a bit for sanitary reasons before he took up occupancy. Stapleton told her not to bother. She says that soon it did not matter - the paint, dirt and droppings all melded together. As the cold weather approached another friend offered him a car he was about to junk. Stapleton gladly accepted. He had decided that the Minneapolis buying public's fondness for wildlife art was not what he wanted to paint. He says he had to leave Minnesota and its fondness for wildlife art before he "quacked under the pressure." So, he drove the car, adding oil every one hundred miles, until he reached his sister's home in Boston.
Back in Boston, Stapleton once again sought the advice of Robert Douglass Hunter. Hunter suggested Stapleton go to Rockport, New England's historic art colony, where there are many outdoor impressionist painters who keep their own seasonal galleries. A lucky and perhaps divine lottery ticket provided the gas for the trip from Boston to Rockport. Stapleton arrived in Rockport, almost penniless, in December with the "season" not occurring until the next summer. Stapleton is a tall fellow. He is good as he says, at dusting transoms and screwing in light bulbs. He had never formally worked a job but for a while he was studying with Gammell he had been the janitor at the Guild of Boston Artists.
Stapleton became the part-time janitor of the Rockport Art Association for that winter. Come summer the long haired bachelor hung his art in a shop on Bearskin Neck with a gypsy and a glass blower. Rockport is a very conservative place. Stapleton refers to himself as the point at which rock and roll and traditional oil painting meet. Still, he remembers a fellow artist coming into his shop and saying, "keep painting because they are going to come and buy all these and more - more than you can paint." "They" did.
Stapleton made a living in Rockport in those early days selling hundreds of small paintings. At the same time he was being introduced to the art of both "dead" and very alive American impressionists. He learned a lot. Stapleton calls these his "grad school" years. Here Stapleton began "slicing and dicing" the landscape to put onto canvas his own artistic impressions of nature rather than nature exactly as it looked to the naked eye without poetry or sentiment.
In 1986, at thirty-three, Stapleton married Kathleen Costello, who had recently finished a masters degree in philosophy and was working in a local frame shop as a gilder (a person who lays gold or metal leaf). Her background in philosophy enabled her to argue effectively with him and her experience gilding meant she could also make some of his frames.
At this time, Rockport had been experiencing a very rapid escalation of property values. After marrying, Stapleton wanted to own property. In 1988, they bought a home in Stockton Springs, a small Maine town on the coast of Penobscott Bay. It was here that their two daughters were born, Emily in 1989, and Helen in 1992.
When Stapleton first arrived in Maine he painted two large classically inspired murals; each one measures two hundred square feet. However, the Maine landscape of this area is spectacular. Stapleton soon went back to his favored impressionist painting outdoors.
In 1992, Stapleton's work began to be collected by a major American Corporation. For years this one patron bought just about everything Stapleton could produce and to a lesser extent still continues to collect. This allowed Stapleton a degree of financial freedom he had never before experienced. During this time he grew in leaps and bounds as an artist, with his brushwork becoming freer and more purposeful. It is during this period that Stapleton's technique coalesced into that of a mature and practiced painter. It was also during his Maine period that Stapleton was admitted to and began winning prizes at the Rockport Art Association. Although now, once again, he is headquartered in Rockport, Stapleton still continues to enjoy ever-growing patronage in Maine. He frequently travels back to these familiar painting grounds and there are a number of galleries in Maine handling his work.
Stapleton remained strongly affiliated with both the Cape Ann style of painting and the Rockport Art Association during this period in Maine. In 1995, even though it meant a four-hour commute for monthly meetings, he accepted a membership on the board of governors of the Rockport Art Association. On one of these commutes he was informed of a shop with an apartment above that would be available for the following summer season. The time seemed right.
Rockport not only provides a rich source of painting material, it fosters wonderful exposure for an artist. Also, it can be a place of great artistic camaraderie. Shortly after returning to Rockport, in 1997, Stapleton was asked to become the President of the Rockport Art Association. In 1997, Stapleton also became a member of the Northshore Art Association and was invited into the Guild of Boston Artists. The guild is the smallest and most exclusive painter's membership organization in New England. Since returning to Rockport, Stapleton has been giving demonstrations of his painting methods all over the greater Boston area. He instructs painting workshops and also continues to teach privately. He frequently advertises in American Art Review magazine. This has given him greater national recognition. Stapleton has begun jurying national art shows. Another growing source of popular fame and notoriety are his unique "blue night scenes.
Stapleton is particularly fond of outdoor painting in winter, enjoying the challenge of capturing light on snow. Even while living in Maine, Stapleton would often travel to Vermont for winter landscape painting. He has recently discovered another rich source for outdoor winter landscapes in Lake Tahoe, California.
During the past ten years Stapleton has participated in 25 one-man or small-group shows. At present Stapleton's paintings can be found at: the Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Massachusetts; the Guild of Boston Artists in Boston, Massachusetts; the Crane Collection in Wellesley, Massachusetts; the Northshore Art Association in Gloucester, Massachusetts; and the Stapleton Kearns Gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts that he and his wife run seasonally.
Stapleton's work is shown in Maine at: Bayview Galleries in Camden and Portland; Argosy Gallery in Bar Harbor; and McGrath-Dunham in Castine. Stapleton also shows at the Pogan Gallery in Lake Tahoe, California; at the Broden Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin; and DeBruyne Gallery in Naples, Florida.
Stapleton's beautiful and prize winning paintings are in hundreds of private collections both in the United States and overseas. He has twice shown in the biannual show of the National Academy of Design in New York City. The American Embassy in Moscow displayed one of his large snowscapes as an example of American painting in the Arts for the Embassies Program.
Nantucket Roses by Stapleton Kearns
11" x 14"
Oil on Canvas