Bringing Dust to Life

by PATRICIA O’DELL | photos by ANNA PETROW

Chentell Shannon is creating a company and a culture that celebrates community.

It’s possible that Chentell Shannon shouts, but it’s difficult to believe that she would. She’s built Convivial Productions – a company that creates collections of handmade wares for the home, table, and garden – over the last five years with a quiet, steady hand. While she does not pretend to know all the answers of what happens next, she is conscious and careful with her life and her company as she considers what is best using her own definition of success.

While Shannon is passionate about what she does and how she does it, she was not envisioning her future as she made clay pots in kindergarten. Her interest in pottery came much later.

“My older sister is two years ahead of me,” Shannon says. “I was the
quintessential younger sister. I thought she was so cool. I wanted to be just like her.”

Shannon’s sister had enrolled in a ceramics class in high school, so she enrolled in a ceramic class in high school.

“Then, independently, I really started loving it. I took ceramics class-
es every semester that I could. Then I started doing independent study with my professor and learned wheel throwing and hand building.”

She discovered she has a visceral experience working with her hands.

“I think your mind goes into a different state,” Shannon says. “For me it’s therapeutic. It’s a release.”


She followed the same path in college, taking pottery classes and doing independent study. Her senior year, she found that she wanted to share the process and started looking for ways to introduce other people to the craft.

“Art therapy was the path that classified as a career in the arts. Even though I wasn’t really interested in the clinical aspects of art, it was the thing I thought I could make a career out of.”

But the reality of art therapy wasn’t the same as creating. She studied community art, which felt more organic. But after graduation, she became more and more interested in designing, creating, and selling her work. She trusted that all the components of the things that she had learned would come into play and become a career.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately,” she says. “We’re five years in. The first year was just me, then some interns, then part-time people. I think we were in five spaces before here.”

“Here” being the light-flooded space on the fourth floor of one of the old brick buildings in the West Bottoms that accommodates Convivial’s growing team. Shannon said this last move felt significant.

“When we moved here two years ago it felt like we jumped from being an individual studio to an actual company. There was consistency and culture.”

Convivial recently took over the full floor and has committed to the space for three years. Shannon says that the growth and expansion raise questions about who and what Convivial should be.

“I want to be really intentional with our growth. What will our products be like? What will the studio be like? What will our culture be like?”

She’s discerning about expanding the product line and how they will move forward as a company. This conscious movement drives decisions in every aspect of the business, including a recent opportunity to paint a mural on the side of the building.

“We had the opportunity to do the mural and we considered putting our name on it,” Shannon says. “But it’s not our building, so we reconsidered. Recognizing the neighborhood seemed like the right thing to do.”

The mural, which Shannon’s team designed and painted with the help of community volunteers, reads, “Welcome to the Historic West Bottoms.” This result is part of a broader philosophy.


“Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how owning a business is an opportunity. We can either work within the outline of standard business practices or be creative in how we approach growing and sustaining as a business.”

Shannon thinks this applies to where they invest, how they approach sales, as well as their motivation. This thinking is the root of Convivial’s creative, alternative, community-based marketing approaches, such as collaborating on murals, events, and dinners.

“I want to be creative with how we approach partnership and marketing,” she says. “We’re exploring putting those resources toward investing in the culture of our community and the architecture of our city, determining if this works as a more holistic approach for our staff, community, and customers.”


While she moves thoughtfully, Shannon and her team want Convivial to create more pieces, more lines, and, perhaps more importantly, more jobs. But they are careful about growth.

“What we do is not trend based. That’s why we don’t do limited editions. We are being intentional about things that last. We want our customers to know that if they buy dinnerware from us, they will always be able to get it.”

The company is currently exploring creating new concepts. Verdant, a plant and flower shop in the Crossroads that carries planters and candles, is planned for the spring.

Shannon sees Convivial as the parent company, while responding to smart opportunities along the way.

“I would rather keep being creative. This could lead to more variety, which could bring more chaos – or more success. We want to keep things fresh. The questions that I will always come back to is, ‘What will I be proud of?’”

Breathe. Enjoy.

by JENNIFER LAPKA

He climbed two steps toward his upper-floor New York apartment and paused to catch his breath.

Two steps more, pause, catch. He could not wait to see his wife and children who were at
home waiting for him.

Two steps, pause, catch.

He checked his
email on his phone so as to not feel like he was wasting time.

Two steps, pause, catch.

Art reflects life, which is particularly true for artist Dylan Mortimer and his current body of work. Born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), he is currently living and breathing thanks to a third set of donated lungs. According to CFF.org, CF is a progressive genetic disease affecting the lungs and digestive system. “In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps germs, like bacteria, leading to infections, inflammation, respiratory failure, and other complications. In the pancreas, the buildup of mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that help the body absorb food and key nutrients, resulting in malnutrition and poor growth. In the liver, the thick mucus can block the bile duct, causing liver disease.”

Dylan was born in 1979 in Ohio and grew up in St. Louis. He was 10 years old when he was diagnosed, at a time when the average lifespan of a person with CF was 17  years. As a boy, Dylan loved drawing. He drew comics and thought about art school very early on, an idea supported by his parents. When he was 14 years old, he saw a flyer for a month-long summer art program at the Chicago Art
Institute pinned to a board at his St. Louis high school. He and a friend attended that program.

After high school, he moved to Kansas City to secure a bachelor’s in fine arts in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute. He studied under the now-retired Welsh abstract painting instructor Warren Rosser. Over the course of his time there, Dylan’s figurative painting changed to mixed media and sculpture and installations. After
graduating in 2002, he moved to New York to pursue an
MFA from the School of Visual Arts, graduating in 2006. While there, he was deeply influenced by faculty member and artist Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, who is typically associated with the American Pattern and Decoration art movement of the mid-’70s through early ’80s. (Lanigan-Schmidt is also well known for his involvement with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which are widely considered to be the most important event leading to the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in America.) Pattern and Decoration was championed by New York gallery owner Holly Solomon and inspired by 1960s liberation politics, particularly feminism. Artists were producing large paintings, collages, and sculptures emphasizing pattern and all-over decoration using pipe cleaners, foil, cellophane, glitter, and other inexpensive materials.

In 2019, Dylan had his second full lung transplant in New York and  moved back to Kansas City with his wife and two sons. He is currently artist-in-residence at the Townsend Building in Brookside, which is full of his works. These will be shipped to the University of Iowa, where his next show is taking place. That show will will conclude with adding his work to hospital, pharmaceutical company, and medical center collections. Paper, paint, caulk, glue, and glitter covered the studio’s surfaces, ready to be made into more works depicting cells, bronchial tubes, mucus, etc., and certain moments, feelings, and memories pertaining to his experiences of living with CF. Dylan used to resent the idea of making work about CF. “I didn’t want to talk about it; I didn’t want anyone to pity me.” But now, he fully embraces it and wants doctors, caretakers, hospital staff, and fellow survivors to see it and be inspired by it. In fact, he is taking speaking en gagements about his art and is thrilled he is able to simultaneously raise awareness about CF and art.

When asked about his goals for this year, Dylan replied: “I want to be happy and healthy, to continue running and biking with my sons. It is a gift to breathe, and it’s no less a gift for anyone else. Breathe and enjoy. I highly recommend it to everyone.”

Three of Dylan’s works have been recently installed at the KU Med Health Education Building (HEB). You can see his Open Spaces project, a pink painted tree called “Tree, Broken Tree,” in Swope Park; and a sculpture and two collages in the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art collection. You can also visit his representing gallery, Haw Contemporary, and website DylanMortimer.com.

A Legacy in Values

by KELSEY CIPOLLA

Spend some time with Pat Cocherl, affectionately known to many as “Mr. C,” and a few things quickly become apparent: his love for his family, his admiration of the founding fathers (particularly Thomas Jefferson), and his desire to give back.

All these passions come together at the Cocherl Family Foundation’s Jefferson Building. The Leawood space was designed from a drawing by Jefferson that had never been built. The stately structure is filled with references to its namesake as well as other early American visionaries, mixed in with photos of the Cocherl clan: Pat, his wife of almost 50 years, Kathy, and their five children: Jennifer, Shawn, Ryan, Kristen, and Patrick.

The building opened in 2017 and serves as the headquarters for the Cocherl Family Foundation, which is run by all seven family members united to pursue a single purpose: helping kids.

RIGHTING A WRONG
The Cocherl Family Foundation’s mission is in some ways penance for a wrong choice Mr. C made decades ago, he explains.

Cocherl was serving as president of the Blue Valley School District’s board of education in the mid 1980s when a vote passed in favor of integrating students with special needs into the district’s schools. He didn’t agree, thinking it would adversely affect the quality of education, but the
board voted and he was overruled. The program launched at the school where the Cocherl family’s youngest son, Patrick, was about to start kindergarten.

After a few weeks at school, Patrick asked to invite his friend Jake over for a playdate. When the friend arrived, the Cocherls were surprised to see that he was in a wheelchair. Jake’s mother explained some of the basics they would need to know to help Jake during his time at their home, and
the kids had a blast. Meanwhile, Mr. C realized he’d made a huge mistake by rejecting the idea of making the district more inclusive.

“I went to every school in the school district and apologized for my vote and vowed that day to right that wrong,” he said. After working behind the scenes for some time, the Cocherl Family Foundation was born in 2003, a formal entity dedicated to making a difference in the lives of
local children.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Mr. C says about the foundation’s work.

THE GIFT OF GIVING
The Cocherl Family Foundation is truly a family affair, starting with its funding. Mr. C’s company, Heartland Customer Solutions, offers support services for Panasonic products and put the Cocherls in a financial position to give back. The family’s own money is the lifeblood of the foundation, which also accepts donations from people who believe in its charitable mission.

Since its establishment, the nonprofit has given to numerous organizations that work to improve life for kids, including the Rose Brooks Center, Beat the Monster, and Children’s Mercy Hospital. It’s also helping to provide funding to a new Wonderscope location in South Kansas City. And in recent years, one of the biggest focuses has been Keep the Spark Alive, an organization determined to prevent suicide by funding innovative programs and initiatives in schools, starting with Blue Valley.

Additionally, the Cocherl Family Foundation offers annual scholarships to Blue Valley students who receive special education services through individual education programs, commonly known as IEPs. The awards fund
their post-high school education, whether that includes attending a college, university, or vocational school.

Mr. C estimates hundreds of area students have received the renewable scholarship since it was established. The scholarships not only set these students up for success after graduation, they also help them develop a sense of self-worth and confidence they might otherwise lack, parents have told the family.

Of course, the Cocherls haven’t been without challenges of their own. Several years ago, the family’s patriarch suffered a massive heart attack that brought him to the brink of death. Mr. C survived, but the experience put his philanthropic mission into even sharper focus.

After recovering, he wanted to ensure the work of the foundation will outlive him and Kathy through their kids, who play an active role, bringing their own projects and ideas to the family’s quarterly meetings where future commitments are decided.

With the children fully invested, the foundation is poised to make an impact for years to come. “I realized that I had more pieces to put in place to finish, and I’ve now done that,” he says, adding, “For the first time, I realized my mortality and it made me hyper-focused on what’s important.”