The artist and musician on what fuels her creativity
Artist Kris Manning began making a lion with an ”epic mane” out of pop-tops in January. After the coronavirus started spreading, she said the project became therapeutic.
Kris Manning wasn’t supposed to be living with a lion, but she is. It’s not real, of course. This big cat is made of 24,628 pop-tops, yet it demands just as much awe as any real-life king of beasts would. The creature was commissioned by an admirer of this artist and musician before the pandemic changed everything, and the lion found himself looking for a home. For now, Manning has added him to the growing “menagerie” of mythical creatures she’s creating, including a mule deer made from thousands of toothpicks.
Manning, who calls herself an “artpreneur,” has made her mark in both music and art. As “that girl drummer,” she’s appeared all over the country, as well as Vienna and Russia, playing with John Beck and other Percussive Arts Society delegates and, in Charleston, for the traveling Broadway hit, Beautiful: the Carole King Musical. As an instructor, she’s imparted her love of rhythm to children through The Black Tie Music Academy, which she co-owns with Braeden Kershner, and the nonprofit, The Music Battery. As a visual artist, she’s a founding member and past president of the Art Guild of Daniel Island, and since 2013, she has provided both music and art during the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Being an artist sometimes requires a sense of humor, as demonstrated by a paper mâché dragon, made of the hundreds of rejection letters she’s received over the years, that hung in the Charleston Music Hall for a while. But for Manning, the work fuels her and not even a pandemic can stop her from creating.
Her Own Beat: In seventh grade, I wanted to be in band, and they said, "Here’s a flute." I saw 30 girls with flutes, and I said, “I’d like to play something louder please!” I played the xylophone, but no one let me near a drum set until I graduated from college. It took me a while to learn how to play it properly. But I love rocking out with an amazing bass player, guitarist, and singer. I can’t do that now, so it’s really tough. My family doesn’t want to hear me banging away on the drum set by myself!
Charleston’s Draw: There was a massive snowstorm in Connecticut. It was snowing for two weeks, and I had little kids at home. I looked at my husband and said, “Enjoy this. This is our last New England winter.” It happened to be at the end of the Wine + Food festival here, and I was producing a wine festival in Connecticut, so I bought a ticket. It was magical and exciting and powerful. The three things that light me up are food, art, and music, and this was the mecca of all that. I told my husband, “Well, I am going to move there. I hope you come with me!”
Artful Life: When I graduated with a percussion degree, I realized there were not a lot of jobs for female percussionists, so I migrated into the corporate world, and I learned all kinds of interesting things about marketing and business that I use. But when I arrived here 10 years ago, I thought, “Nobody knows I am a serious businesswoman with heels and hose. I could be anyone I want to be. It’s like I’m in the witness relocation program.” I thought I could be a cool musician again. And then with the creative energy of the music, I thought I could do anything. I could be an artist. My husband thought I was going through a midlife crisis when I bought canvas and paint.
Music Teacher: This is kind of a devastating time. If we had talked in March, I would have told you the Black Tie Music Academy had 10 locations, and we offer music and art lessons for anyone. But now, with COVID-19, I have to announce that we are closing all 10 locations. As cases rise in the state, we realize it doesn’t make sense for children to be gathered en masse for the next six to 12 months.
Drum Major: The Music Battery is a nonprofit after-school program. We have kids who are at risk, and they come and participate in a drum line that is 100 percent free to them. It builds camaraderie and skills, where the kids understand they are part of something bigger than themselves. They do homework and calisthenics and then they drum. If they misbehave, they have to play a bucket instead, and they have to earn their drum back. Right now, the program is on hold because of the pandemic.
Surviving the Pandemic: I have some whimsical animal paintings in the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s, and I made some pillows with my pen-and-ink drawings that included 18 places of worship for Charleston’s 350th anniversary. I’ve been spending the time on collaborations. I participated in a fundraiser for Feed the Need, which raised more than $66,000, and worked on a [theatrical] project with Jonathan Green called Osceola’s Muse about the Seminoles on Sullivan’s Island. I just finished a project doing miniature murals with local artist Ken Hamilton. And, with my love of food, I’m working with watercolor artist Barbara Meierhusby to create a cookbook, mainly for my boys so they have something to preserve our recipes. Braeden and I have moved to consulting, and we’re speaking with the State Department of Education to offer support in fine arts—online or in person. It will be like the phoenix rising from the ashes.