While some spend their life trying to get out of a small town, one creative, young couple worked diligently to relocate to this one. For more than 9 years Mitch Kimball and Shand Stamper have worked on a plan to make Paducah's LowerTown Arts District their permanent home. About two years ago they finally succeeded.
Nine years ago, the couple made a visit to Stamper's aunt, who had recently relocated to Paducah through the Artist Relocation Program. Kimball and Stamper had only been dating a few months and marriage had not even come up in conversation at this point. But it was this brief weekend visit to Paducah that planted one tiny seed in the couple's minds that would eventually grow into a lifelong partnership. Immediately, they knew that Paducah's LowerTown Arts District was where they needed to be and they wanted to do it together.
The couple returned to Mississippi where they were both students at the Southern Mississippi University in Hattiesburg. Kimball earned an arts education degree with an emphasis on ceramics and painting. Stamper finished with a bachelor of fine arts in 3D Design with an emphasis on ceramics and sculpture. And then Hurricane Katrina happened. Opportunities in Southern Mississippi were virtually non-existent.
The couple was more eager than ever to move to Paducah. But the timing for relocation was still not quite right. Kimball and Stamper made their way to Tennessee in search of jobs. They both sold their work at art shows until saving enough money to move to North Carolina. Kimball found a position teaching art to special needs children, using art-infused lessons to help them connect and learn.
Although, the position provided a significant challenge, Kimball's gentle spirit was perfectly suited for teaching.
"(Teaching) is a good feeling. It feels good to share," he said.
Over the next few years, the pieces of their "Paducah plan" began to fall into place. Paducah was beginning to look more like a reality. An opportunity to teach art at Ballard County High School opened up for Kimball, but at the same time Stamper was still working on her Masters' in Metalsmithing at East Carolina University.
The couple knew that opportunities like this didn't come open every day so they decided to send Kimball ahead to Paducah to take the teaching position at Ballard, while Stamper finished her degree in North Carolina.
About a year later, another position opened in Paducah for Stamper. A position teaching art at Lone Oak High School opened. This seemed to be the final piece to their plan. Stamper finished her education and packed her bags for Kentucky.
So what was it about this community of 27,000 people that these two emerging artists found so appealing and what keeps them in Paducah? It's the inspiration and the spirit of the people who live here, they say.
"It's a place for artists who are addicted to art," said Kimball. "If you need inspiration it's here."
The couple is now in the second stage of their relocation process. They are developing plans for building a sophisticated pottery and metalsmith studio in LowerTown. Currently, they do work in their home and in a carriage house located on Madison Street. During the school year they are pouring over lesson plans and working with their students. But in the summer you might catch them hanging out at A.I.R. Studio, with an artist in residence, or drinking coffee at Etcetera Coffeehouse.
Don't be surprised if this enthusiastic couple draws you into their work and their lives with their charm and southern hospitality. They are two of Paducah's biggest advocates and their relocation has brought new energy to Paducah's LowerTown Arts District. Follow their work and progress at mitchkimball.com and shandstamper.com.