MORLAND — An artist’s path is rarely straight and narrow, but Chelsey Stremel did not expect a small Graham County town to lead to creative fulfillment.
Growing up in Great Bend, Stremel was always interested in art.
“I never thought it would be a career option. I wanted to do something like archaeology or paleontology. Advisers should tell you you need to take science classes, not theater, which is what I took,” she said with a laugh.
She decided on wildlife biology for a college major and started that path at Pratt Community College. She also played softball until shoulder surgery ended that path.
She transferred to Barton Community College, still majoring in wildlife biology but also taking some art classes for fun and stress relief.
Her path took an abrupt turn after a chemistry class one day at Fort Hays State University. The Hungarian professor was difficult to understand and Stremel thought the material was over her head.
She was doodling all over her class notes.
“That same day I walked over to the art department and changed my major,” she said.
She did so fully realizing her job prospects would be slim unless she left the state. But neither she nor her future husband, Tyler, were interested in leaving.
“If I do this, I’m going to have to create my own path,” she told herself. “I knew that early on.
“Here I am in my kitchen making pottery,” she said.
Just down the road east of Morland in a cozy trailer she, Tyler and cattle dog Ace share, Stremel throws clay on a wheel next to a big sunny window of the kitchen. She calls it Gotchall Studios, a way of continuing her family name, as she never had any brothers.
From that wheel and her kiln in a shop building on the property have come mugs, vases and yarn bowls that she has sold mostly at craft fairs, but flower shops and other retail outlets in the region have started to carry her work. Her work can also be seen at Facebook.com/gotchallstudios.
The town of 150 people has been a surprising support and inspiration for her art, Stremel said. They moved here a couple years ago for her husband’s welding job.
“Everyone has that assumption that when you go to small towns in Kansas, that art dreams are going to die,” she said.
Instead, she found a community appreciative of the arts, something she attributes to long-time Hill City art teacher David Chalfont who influenced many in Graham County.
“Everyone knows how to make something in Graham County,” Stremel said. She notes she’s had conversations about pottery with the most practical farmers.
“It’s really amazing how many people have some sort of creativeness about them. I didn’t expect to find an artistic home like this one. I got very lucky, I’d say,” she said.
It’s not that she never wanted to leave Kansas. As a child, she thought she’d one day live in a big city.
“I had been told that every artist needs to go to New York because it will change how you view art,” she said.
A family trip to New York City last summer showed her that would have been the wrong, path, though.
“I went and it was the saddest, saddest experience of my life. It’s just depressing having all those people stacked up on top of each other. All I could think of was my little house in Morland, Kansas.
“I can think out here,” she said.