Plano Profile May 2009 : Page 77

Your profession is not what brings home your paycheck. Your profession is what you were put on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling. — Vincent van Gogh careers of the heart We all work for sustenance and shelter. Fortunate souls labor at their craft not because it’s what they do, rather it’s who they are. Actress Kimberly Whalen, jewelry designer Mary McNeill, and artist KAT based their career choices on their heart’s desire. Their paths were not paved with obvious steps and neat progression. There has been plenty of risk-taking, but their journeys have taken them exactly where they want to go. BY CINDY BOYKIN • PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE NEWMAN MAY 2009 PLANO PROFILE 77

Careers Of The Heart


We all work for sustenance and shelter. Fortunate souls labor at their craft not because it’s what they do, rather it’s who they are.<br /> <br /> Actress Kimberly Whalen, jewelry designer Mary McNeill, and artist KAT based their career choices on their heart’s desire.<br /> <br /> Their paths were not paved with obvious steps and neat progression.<br /> <br /> There has been plenty of risk-taking, but their journeys have taken them exactly where they want to go.<br /> <br /> A Cinderella story<br /> <br /> While playing Cinderella at Bass Hall, Kimberly Whalen experienced her own magical moment.<br /> <br /> “I’ll never forget the first time I was on stage before the performance began,” she effused. “I was standing behind this thing called a scrim— you can see the audience but they can’t see you. I observed the people rustling in their seats, and I starting feeling their energy.<br /> <br /> “Then the lights in the theater dimmed, the overture started, and ooohhhh…my whole body got so excited! It’s one of the coolest experiences of your life. Since then, I’ve always stopped and enjoyed the very beginning of every show.” <br /> <br /> Hats off to the casting director, because Kimberly was surely the perfect Cinderella. With porcelain skin and green eyes as uniquely beautiful as glacier lakes, she is stunning; yet she shows no trace of rising-star ego. She is open, warm, unpretentious and well grounded.<br /> <br /> With good-natured humor, Kimberly said this early theatrical experience was Cinderella-like down to the ground.<br /> <br /> “It was funny because I had just finished school (University of Texas– Arlington) when I got this role. I still had friends living in Arlington, and since it’s close to Fort Worth, I stayed with a friend whose roommate had just moved out. So I was sleeping in the extra bedroom…on the floor!” <br /> <br /> But unlike the fabled character, Kimberly must try on glass slippers time and time again. Every audition is another opportunity for acceptance or rejection.<br /> <br /> She confided, “When you don’t get the part, a lot of people say, ‘They’re not rejecting you, they’re just rejecting the image of you.’ But if you’re a true actor, there’s a part of you in everthing you do. So it hurts a little bit every time when somebody says, ‘You’re just not what we’re looking for.’ However, it makes you so much stronger, I’ve discovered.You become resilient and things just don’t stop you.” <br /> <br /> Her strong vocal talent has landed her key roles in many musicals.Among them, she played Clara in Theatre Three’s The Light in the Piazza; Emily in A Christmas Carol: Musical performed at Casa Manana; and Julie Jordan in the Lyric Stage production of Carousel.<br /> <br /> It was while playing Julie Jordan that Kimberly learned to embrace the heart of the character, then perform from the heart.<br /> <br /> “When I sang ‘If I Loved You’ from Carousel, I learned so much about being a woman and what it’s like to love somebody. I got to work with Jay Dias, an amazing conductor who works in New York a lot, and he really challenged me to dissect the song—not in a technical way, but in an emotional way. He wanted me to understand why I’m saying these things, why the music swells when it does. All your emotions are written right there in the music for you.” <br /> <br /> Kimberly is branching out into film and television as well. She plays Mrs. Brown in an upcoming movie called The Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It’s due out next summer.She is also in the opening credits of WE Network’s Girl Meets Gown.<br /> <br /> This is a long way from her debut on the Collin Theatre stage in 2003, but it’s a journey that wouldn’t have begun without that first and Unexpected step. Actually, Kimberly had planned to attend SMU as an opera major, but she had the chance to perform in a WaterTower Theatre musical production prior to school starting—and that started something. She got the acting bug and changed directions completely.<br /> <br /> “I looked into Collin College and talked to a couple of friends who had gone there. I knew it had an amazing reputation— they call it ‘Junior Juilliard on Jupiter!’ ” It’s a fitting moniker, since Collin is well represented at the famed New York City performing arts school, having about a dozen alums in their elite program.<br /> <br /> “So I went to Collin not really knowing what I was doing. I took an acting class with Brad Baker and loved it even more.Acting challenged me in a different way than I’d ever been challenged before.” <br /> <br /> Kimberly left Collin after her first year to study a semester at Marymount Manhattan College in New York. Although she enjoyed the experience, she was spoiled by Collin’s policy of allowing actors to pursue acting opportunities off campus— something Marymount didn’t permit. She credits Baker, Gail Cronauer, and everyone involved in the music and theater program for allowing her to expand her talent and freely explore opportunities.<br /> <br /> Navigating through life’s maze is daunting, especially in pursuit of a hard-caught dream.Having a safety net of friends and family gives those venturesome souls the confidence to take great leaps of faith. Kimberly is especially grateful to her family, friends, her church, and Collin’s professors for the roles they played in her career.<br /> <br /> She also appreciates her colleagues. “Theater is such a gracious art. There is great camaraderie that we have as actors. So many people have helped others along the way, paying it forward by giving advice to young people. It’s like, ‘Here you go, I’m passing the torch down to you.’ ” <br /> <br /> We should all look for a bright flame in the future.<br /> <br /> Mary McNeill Leaving no stones unturned<br /> <br /> “I am a bead junkie,” Mary McNeill proclaims with a smile. “I work with precious and semi-precious stones… diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, tourmaline, rutilated quartz, peridot.… I like lots of color and I love faceted things that have a nice sparkle to them.” <br /> <br /> Mary sparkles herself when she talks about the business she started two years ago, MaryGold Designs. The events that brought her to this point were strung together bit by bit, just like one of her glimmering pieces.<br /> <br /> “I was in pharmaceutical sales for about eight years. I loved it at the time, but like anything, it ran its course. What I loved about the industry was changing, and I thought it was a good time for me to get out and try something on my own.” <br /> <br /> But what?<br /> <br /> An artistic person by nature, Mary continued making pottery in her kiln, taking art classes, and creating one-of-a kind jewelry while she contemplated her career options.<br /> <br /> “I really thought I wanted to buy a store,” she said, “so my husband and I investigated store after store after store! In the process of doing that, I started looking at all the things I loved and would want to buy for my store.” <br /> <br /> One supplier was an easy choice, her mother. “My mom lives in Houston and she’s an artistic person, too. She had all these wonderful things already made—handmade mosaic tables and jewelry.” <br /> <br /> Although the idea for the store gradually fizzled out, another idea became crystal clear. Mary looked at the jewelry she and her mother had made and thought, “This is fun. I can do this!” <br /> <br /> Indeed she can.<br /> <br /> Three Dallas boutiques now sell her jewelry, including Betty Cupcake in Snider Plaza, Kacky and Carl on Routh Street, and Gypsy Wagon on Bonita Avenue. She also has a presence on the Web,, and has trunk shows and private showings in homes.<br /> <br /> As all good things should, her business started with a party. She gathered up the items that she and her mother had made and invited friends to her house for a jewelry party.<br /> <br /> “I had all this loot, so I had a party at my house and everyone bought, bought, bought! That’s what really got me excited about jewelry. I realized it was one of the artsy things that I loved, really loved, and I was good at it.” <br /> <br /> Throughout 2007, she offered private showings in homes.Then, because her sales were steadily climbing and she was beginning to be represented in stores, her husband suggested that she incorporate the business, which she did in March of 2008.<br /> <br /> Today she runs her business “soup to nuts,” as she says.Unlike a five-to-nine job, the job never really ends.<br /> <br /> “I work more now because I have 100 percent of the skin in the game on this one. I buy everything, I make everything, I sell everything. I do the marketing, accounting, the Internet…I do everything. So in that aspect, I never quit working.<br /> <br /> I was up at 10 o’clock last night still working on a piece, but the difference is it doesn’t feel like work. I want to do it.<br /> <br /> I’ll be lying in bed and have an inspiration and think, ‘I’ve got to get up and make this pair of earrings, because if I don’t, I’ll forget the color scheme.’ It’s that kind of deal.” <br /> <br /> Other creative days are more structured. “I kind of put things in a queue. If I want to make necklaces for a collection but I want each one to be a little different, I line them up accordingly.” <br /> <br /> <br /> As an example, she held out the long chain she was wearing.“I call this a Merry Necklace, a happy necklace, because it has these different colors. So I’ll lay out the beads for a really colorful one, then I do one that’s all turquoise or all garnet, then I go to work on those.” <br /> <br /> In addition to being creative and lucrative, her job is also proving to be therapeutic. “There are days that I really want to get into something tee-tiny that strains my eyes and makes my fingers hurt, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s an escape, because I get really focused and I can’t think about anything else.” <br /> <br /> Other days she likes to work on bigger pieces, which require equal creativity but less concentration.<br /> <br /> Mary’s jewelry falls into two different price-point lines.Entry pieces run around $48 to $200, and her higher-end pieces range from $300 to $1,200. Pricing factors include gold fill versus 14-karat gold and the gemstones used.<br /> <br /> What she can’t put a price on is the value of the support she has gotten not only from her husband, family, and friends, but from others in the fashion industry.<br /> <br /> “Everyone wants you to succeed, and that was shocking for me because I came from such a cutthroat business. But I have discovered how helpful and awesome women are in this industry. I have realized that if you ask, you pretty much will receive. There will always be obstacles and not everyone feels that way, but for the most part, that has been my experience.<br /> <br /> That’s what made me say, “Okay, I love this. I want to stay in it.”<br /> <br /> “Seeing them come to my show and being so proud…that was the most important thing to me,” she shares.<br /> <br /> Talented as well as humble, KAT is one of the hottest artists on the Pop Art scene today. Her work is represented in about 20 galleries across the U.S. and Canada. Original pieces fetch anywhere from $500 to $15,000 each.<br /> <br /> Her most recognizable paintings are electrifying impressions of rock ’n’ roll icons and musical instruments, primarily strings and keyboards. She has impressionist paintings of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, Jim Morrison, and more current subjects like Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Courtney Love, Slash, and Avril Lavine.<br /> <br /> As it turns out, KAT’s parents were more than her biggest fans, they were her muse. Detailing her creative journey, she says, “Artists seem to Paint their surroundings. Growing up, my surrounding was music. My parents are both musicians; we always had people over and music playing.” <br /> Her dad played guitar, banjo, drums…“a lot of Chet Atkins”; her mom was a singer and played the guitar and piano.<br /> <br /> Throughout her young life, musical tunes not only became familiar to KAT, they offered her comfort and security. “I remember when I was in College, I couldn’t hear my dad playing the guitar down the hall. It was kind of lonely, and I realized how much that meant to me.” <br /> <br /> College was far from home. KAT attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in art history in just three years. She feels fortunate that her parents were supportive, albeit a little apprehensive, about her decision to attend art school after graduating from McKinney High School in 2000. They no longer ponder, “What will she ever do with an art degree?” <br /> <br /> “I’m 27 now, but when I started selling professionally as KAT, it was so cool for my family to see that I went to school to be an artist, and now I am an artist. People go to school to be a doctor, and they’re a doctor. But usually, you don’t get to say You’re a professional artist.” With a coy smile, she adds, “Even still, when some people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m an artist, they say, ‘Yeah, but for a living? What do you do on the side?’ she laughs.<br /> <br /> “I had to pay my dues, definitely, but it’s cool to be this young and make a living off of my art.” <br /> <br /> Like all artists, KAT paid her dues in many ways—sacrifice of time, creative labor, mind-boggling business details, and even emotional toil.<br /> <br /> “Our world is actually really strenuous,” KAT confides. “You have To keep up with demand, the trends, other artists; you have to constantly grow as an artist…you can’t just be set in your ways.<br /> <br /> “I think the biggest pressure on me is the amount of paintings that I do. I have painted as many as 50 paintings in a month. But even with that, it’s silly for me to complain because most artists—most people—don’t get to do what they want for a living. So for me to complain about how many paintings I have to paint in a month is just silly. I wouldn’t even want you to print that.” <br /> <br /> How could we not? It’s more proof that this immensely talented young woman is humbled by gratefulness, rewarded by a stellar work ethic, grounded by loyalty, and lifted to artistic heights by expert training and a rare gift. No wonder her parents are so proud.<br /> <br /> To see more of KAT’s work, go to her Web site at or stop by Oh My Godard, located in The Shops at Willow Bend.

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