“Harbor,” a watercolor by Charmaine Kaptur, is one of the many artworks she has created that capture an outdoor scene.

“Harbor,” a watercolor by Charmaine Kaptur, is one of the many artworks she has created that capture an outdoor scene.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Wide-ranging works by beloved local artist are subject of retrospective

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 6, 2023


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Artist Charmaine Kaptur has a master’s degree in painting from Wayne State University and is known by many collectors for her distinctive watercolor paintings, but she once said she doesn’t consider herself a watercolorist.

Kaptur’s body of work also includes drawings, prints, collage, monotype and papermaking. Viewers will have a rare opportunity to see — and purchase — one of her pieces during her one-woman exhibition, “Retrospective: A Life in Art,” which opens with a public reception from 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Grosse Pointe Congregational Church in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Kaptur, who turns 89 on Sept. 8, isn’t working as actively as an artist anymore, but continues to paint and draw.

“It was a way of life,” said Kaptur of art, which became her profession as well as her avocation.

Creativity seems to be in the Kaptur family genes. Kaptur’s late father, Vincent D. Kaptur Sr., was an automotive designer who worked on vehicles including Cadillacs and the Corvette, and in retirement enjoyed woodworking and custom jewelry-making. Kaptur’s only surviving sibling, Hugh Kaptur, is an acclaimed mid-century modern architect in California who designed homes for actors including William Holden and Steve McQueen.

Kaptur said her father always wanted to be an architect. When a teacher at De La Salle High School saw promise in that area with Hugh, she said the teacher steered her brother in that direction, laying the groundwork for his future career.

Kaptur said her father “influenced my brother Huey more” than her.

Kaptur, who earned her bachelor’s degree in art from Marygrove College in Detroit in 1956, also studied papermaking at Central Michigan University and the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow, and took painting workshops from Millard Sheets in Mexico in the 1960s. She’s won multiple awards for her work at venues including the Grosse Pointe Art Center, Scarab Club, Michigan State Fair and Studio 23 in Bay City, and has been in more than 200 exhibitions around the world, including France, Norway and Austria.

“She traveled a lot when she was young,” said Lori Zurvalec, of Grosse Pointe City, president of the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. “Her artwork incorporated a lot of her travel outside of the U.S.”

During a time when career options for women were limited, Kaptur rose through the ranks as a commercial artist, starting with a stint at Sears drawing illustrations for advertisements.

“I was a commercial artist and art director at a credit union (after Sears), and I briefly ran the department,” Kaptur said.

After a 30-year career in commercial art and graphic design, Kaptur retired to care for her aging parents in their Grosse Pointe Park home on Bedford Lane. After their deaths in 1987, she continued to live in the house, until she moved to Sunrise of Grosse Pointe Woods roughly five years ago.

At Sunrise, Kaptur has taken part in art activities.

“She critiques my artwork,” said Rachael Herbon, activities volunteer coordinator at Sunrise. “She gives good critiques.”

The walls of Kaptur’s bedroom and a shared common room in her unit are covered with her artworks, and sketchpads and paintbrushes sit at the ready on her desk.

“She is definitely somebody I always go to when we do any kind of art project,” Herbon said.

Zurvalec has been friends with Kaptur for the last three decades. Both artists are longtime members of the Pointe Studio Ten, an art critique group that has exhibited together at multiple venues over the years.

Kaptur taught art for many years at what was then called the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (now The War Memorial) in Grosse Pointe Farms, the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens and the Grosse Pointe Art Center; at the last venue, she taught experimental painting. She led a special workshop in Fairbanks, Alaska, as well. Zurvalec said Kaptur is a former board member of the Michigan Water Color Society, for which she designed a catalog when the group marked its 50th anniversary at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1997.

“She’s contributed to that whole area of study — being a teacher, putting her work out there,” Zurvalec said. “She has students that were influenced by her work.”

Kaptur may not have received the level of attention her father and brother, Hugh, received, but she’s nonetheless made a name for herself as an artist.

“She’s done some very good work,” Zurvalec said. “There’s a lyrical, playful, flowing quality (to her pieces). There’s a bit of humor, too.”

“Retrospective: A Life in Art” will be on display through Sept. 24 in the art gallery at Grosse Pointe Congregational Church, 240 Chalfonte Ave. in Grosse Pointe Farms. The gallery is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays or by appointment. For an appointment or more information, call the church at (313) 884-3075.