By Mellany Armstrong
Two Moore graduates who are outstanding in their chosen artistic practices have been selected as Distinguished Alumni in the 25th year of the awards.
Kathy Vissar ’80 and Kia Weatherspoon ’10 will be honored in a virtual ceremony June 6 at 5 pm. Since 1995, the Distinguished Alumni Award has recognized alumni who have achieved significant professional accomplishments, participated in civic and service groups for the betterment of the community and have helped to advance the mission of the College.
Vissar, an entrepreneur who creates unique large-scale architectural installations such as ceilings, fireplaces and accent pieces through her company, Wells Vissar Inc., said she is thrilled and humbled to be selected.
“It came as such a surprise, right in the middle of the first two weeks of the corona virus (stay-at-home order),” she said. “When (Moore President) Cecelia Fitzgibbon called me, I hung up and said, ‘Wait, did that really just happen?’ I was really honored and it came at a really good time for me.”
Kia Weatherspoon runs her own interior design firm in Washington D.C. called Determined by Design, which focuses on affordable housing and senior living spaces.
“No matter what stage you are at in your life, you want certain people or institutions to feel proud, and this (award) feels like I made my school proud,” she said.
Vissar specializes in a fancy type of plaster called scagliola. Some of the decorative pieces she makes by hand look like old marble, and can even fool the experts. “I will make your average millionaire look wealthier than they are,” she said. The artist works out of a studio in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, and she works with major individual and corporate clients in Philadelphia and New York, including Tavern on the Green and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“We get calls from all over the planet, thanks to Instagram and the internet,” she said. She emphasizes the handwork in her products.
“It’s really Old World,” she said. “I don’t use 3D printing and I don’t use CNC (computer numerically controlled machines). I think that’s really important now. I think people are really attracted to that.”
Weatherspoon said her thoroughness and accuracy in her design work comes from the technical elements she learned while serving in the Air Force. She describes herself as a design equity advocate.
“There’s a level of bias that exists when designing for people in low-income communities,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m shifting the narrative. Everyone deserves access to well-designed spaces.” Determined by Design recently bested larger architectural and design firms to be selected for the redevelopment of the largest public housing complex in Chicago, the Harold L. Ickes Homes, also known as Southbridge.
“Each project is a reflection of the community it’s in,” she said. “Developers we work with are starting to respond to that. We are not a design firm making arbitrary decisions, we are trying to tell a story. That’s what makes us different.”
Both Weatherspoon and Vissar mention “community” as being one of the best gifts they received as students at Moore.
“It truly is this community of women, encouraging, supporting and helping each other,” Weatherspoon said. Vissar still meets up every three months with several classmates for lunches and outings.
“You need other people when you are learning, you need other people to support you,” she said. “The camaraderie at Moore was amazing.”
Vissar now gives back to the community by serving as a board member of Taller Puertorriqueño, a nonprofit that elevates and preserves Puerto Rican and Latino culture through arts and cultural programming.
“I became part of Taller Puertorriqueño because my studio was in a Latino community for years,” she said. “They really embraced what we did and when Carmen (Febo San Miguel) and the board came to me to see if I would be a board member, I said absolutely, it’s time to pay it back.”
Weatherspoon encourages Moore students to follow their dreams.
“I think my advice is that creative professionalism and entrepreneurship will continue to be a lucrative financial path—period,” she said. “I think sometimes people think that when you go to art school you want to be in this creative space and that you can’t make a living at that. As a business owner, I believe the key to that is entrepreneurship and not being afraid to follow that path.”
The two alums look forward to the celebration of their accomplishments this weekend.
“Moore was such a critical part of my journey and development,” Weatherspoon said. “This award is like, ‘Yeah, I’m proud of you.’”
Read more about Kia Weatherspoon here.
Read more about Kathy Vissar here.