Amber D. Kempthorn

2022 Emerging Artist, Visual Arts

When it came to becoming an artist, Amber Kempthorn will tell you she had no choice. She’s just always done it. As a child growing up in Cuyahoga Falls, she spent many hours at their neighbor’s house getting lost in their significant library of art books.



“I would drag them home and sit and copy all of them,” Amber says today. “I couldn’t possibly tell you why, other than I loved to do it.”


She began by majoring in English because she also loved to read. Then her compelling study abroad experiences during her freshman, junior and senior years at Hiram College, during which she traveled to England and through Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador, fired her passions for politics and social justice.


“As humans, we tend to want to make things binary,” she says, having then designed her major around the study of human rights. “Eventually I accepted that I could be and do all of these things, finally completing my BA in Studio Art at Hiram, by bringing my passion for reading, writing, and social justice into my thesis work. I just accepted that I had to pursue the thing that I loved most and needed to do, which was artmaking.”


Amber went on to graduate with a Post Baccalaureate degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006 and she received her MFA in Sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2008. There she heightened her focus on her beloved drawing skills.


“Drawing and sculpture have a beautiful relationship that is often not highlighted, especially in contemporary sculpture that is more conceptually driven where there’s a lot of discussion around ephemerality, recording and documenting,” she says. “These ideas became the foundational approach for how I think about drawing.”


Amber holds a Lecturer position in the Drawing Department at the Cleveland Institute of Art where she has taught since 2012. She also teaches courses as a member of the adjunct faculty at The College of Wooster.


“I love teaching,” she says. “How fortunate I am to make a living where I can help young artists on a path to figuring out themselves, find their mode of expression, feel confident about sharing that with the world, and carve out a space for their own independence, identity and lives.”


Several years ago, she began focusing on the landscape and drawing ordinary objects wherein her work has become more about the implied sense of humanity by not directly representing the figure. She also explores time and nostalgia through drawing.


“My drawings are densely layered, melancholic, and playful reflections of the mind’s life,” she says. “I am deeply drawn to the subject of nostalgia, best described by the writer Michael Chabon as ‘…the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection.’ I find this ache to be poignant evidence of our human consciousness and attempt to capture it with drawing.”


“If you look at her work, there’s a lot of landscape, a lot of birds,” observes Heather McGill, retired head of the Sculpture Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art. “That’s been a preoccupation since she was a student at Cranbrook, and by the end that was becoming pretty obvious that she’d be recording and using nature as an essential part of her work to talk about time and change and life.”


Amber’s work has been exhibited across the U.S. and was included in the inaugural Front International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art and most recently in More is More: Visual Richness in Contemporary Art at the Akron Art Museum. She was invited by the artist Jonathan Horowitz to make an artwork for his internet project, The Daily Trumpet. In 2018, Amber provided drawings for Rock This Town! Backstage in Cleveland: Stories you never heard and swag you never saw by Fran Belkin.


In 2019 she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and a $54,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for her animation project, Ordinary Magic: A Sunday in the Cuyahoga Valley, visually translating Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes, Op. 33” as performed by the Akron Symphony Orchestra. The 15-minute film created in collaboration with Red Point Digital in Akron premiered on October 15 at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Akron. (With) drawing, a companion exhibit of more than 200 of Amber’s exquisitely rendered drawings for the creation of Ordinary Magic is on view at the Bonfoey Gallery through November 5, 2022.