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Cambridge artist heads to NYC with exhibit in Times Square

Cambridge artist Wilks Chaplin has become a rising star in the international art scene and the next stop on her whirlwind world tour is Times Square in New York City

In less than four years Cambridge artist Wilks Chaplin has gone from graduating art school and staging shows at her home studio in Blair to sharing wall space with some of history’s greatest artists at the Louvre Museum in Paris and travelling to a highly publicized exhibit of her work next week in New York.

“I sky rocketed, for sure,” said Chaplin. “I like to think of New York as the American version of the centre of the arts relative to the Louvre in Europe.  I just kind of see it as making my way back over to the Americas and it is really exciting stuff.”

The significance of being invited to these international centres of art and culture isn’t lost on the 25-year-old, mixed-media artist, but she remains tethered to her vision and grounded in her own origin story.

“I love the masters and when I went to the Louvre, I saw the Rembrandts and the Da Vincis,” said Chaplin. “I definitely feel inspired when I go to Paris, but when I come to downtown Galt, I feel inspired, as well. It’s all relative and I am very traditional in that sense. I grew up in an historical home and that really influences me. I feel like I always gravitate towards that quality.”

The name of Chaplin’s upcoming exhibit that launches in Times Square May 8 and runs from May 18 to 21 at the Chelsea Industrial Building in Manhattan, is Nature Meets Urban. It’s a recurring theme of her work, inspired, in no small part by her experiences growing up at Cruickston Park, a 966-acre (390 ha), country estate at the confluence of the Speed and Grand Rivers in Blair.

Cruickston Park, is one of the three paintings Wilks Chaplin brought with her to Paris for her exhibit at the Louvre. Courtesy of Wilks Chaplin

“My parents bought the park the year before I was born so, it has been in my life forever,” said Chaplin. “Growing up at Cruickston influenced me a lot.  I’ve had quite a unique upbringing there because I was always able to do my own thing. We had a farm and the space to do activities. I had a lot of alone time as well.”

She is named after the Wilks family who were former owners of the 170-year-old estate.  Reverence for the natural beauty and rich history of her home fueled Chaplin’s imagination as a child.

“I was very observant growing up,” she said. “I observed things that people wouldn’t normally. So, of course, that all manifested into who I am today.”

Restoring and maintaining the family’s 17,000-square-foot manor home has been a perpetual project for her parents Mark Fretwurst and Jan Chaplin since they took ownership of the estate in 1996. That creative process is often reflected in Chaplin’s choice of medium and subject matter.

“I don’t disclose everything I use because I like to keep it unknown a little bit, but I mainly work in oil because the pigment stays rich once it dries and I can manipulate how the finish looks,” she said. “I am recently just finding the beauty in things as they already are. Sometimes it is as easy as finding a scratch on a piece of metal or an old pallet I used to have. I will incorporate these elements into my work.”

Despite growing up in perceived opulence and isolation behind the gates of the estate, with her parents and two sisters, Hinson and Brechin, Chaplin has enjoyed a relatively normal life and developed an enduring affection and connection to the Cambridge community.

“I went to Preston High School, but I also did some traveling throughout my high school years,” she said. “In Grade 9, I did a term in Qindao, China, which might seem a little outrageous.  In Grade 11, I did a semester in Italy, in the small town of Lanciano. I think that really speaks for my art development in high school and was a prominent piece of my teenage years in art, for sure.” 

After high school Chaplin enrolled at the Ontario College of Arts and Design in Toronto where she graduated in 2019 with a bachelor of fine arts degree.

“The year before I graduated, I started doing my annual shows at Cruickston,” she said. “So, I’ve had five of those annual shows so far. They have been a great hit since the start but every year they keep growing and growing.”

Her clientele keeps growing as well to include customers in Toronto and beyond.

“My shows and my social media presence attracted a lot of curators and collectors internationally and then I was invited to a few exhibitions in Europe, including Spain and Luxemburg and recently, to a show at the Louvre in Paris, which is the place to be.”

The whole family joined her during the Paris exhibit in September and they will be there to support her again in New York.

“I am definitely going to do some New Yorker stuff with my family when I can, but mainly I am down there for my art so, I will be talking to all the collectors and curators,” said Chaplin.  “It is going to be advertised in Times Square for seven days, which is really cool because I read that more than 150,000 people walk by there every day. Get your calculators out. That’s a lot of people.”

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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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