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The Clyde oil and gouache painter, and guest artist at the West Otago Arts and Craft Exhibition, once lived in Tapanui and started exhibitions in the community in 1978.
''It was very spread out and pretty amateurish before we started the exhibitions,'' she said.
''And it was pulling people together and sharing and, I hate to say it, breathing a common air.
"But once they started to come together and look to a greater standard, certainly it took off.''
The open invitation exhibition, which opened last Friday, is the first in many years and attracted 250 entries from about 100 artists from across Otago and Southland.
For Mrs Kempthorne, judging the art on display will be a homecoming of sorts. Of her 20 years teaching and tutoring art in Otago, 16 years were spent teaching at Blue Mountain College in Tapanui.
Tapanui's first exhibition in 1978 was held in her art room and received 300 entries.
She was not a teacher to discourage her students.
''I was much more inclined to praise them for noticing the colours on the mountains when they came in in the morning,'' she said.
''Little things like that were, I found, very exciting, that they were starting to look differently at the landscapes.''
Her painting has moved to a colourful, gestural abstraction of landscapes from sun-scorched Central Otago.
But she has submitted a piece for this show that reflects the diffuse, dream-like light of the Blue Mountains.
''I'm always stunned as I drive through,'' she said. She did not stop to take photographs or draw the scenes that captivated her though.
''I have to store it all in my head.
''In Central it's that burning sort of light, again, that's quite different.''
West Otago Arts and Craft Exhibition president Julie-Ann Kelly said the informal painting and crafts groups of Tapanui came together to form the new exhibition committee.
The quilts, patchworks, ceramics, jewellery and painting on display at the West Otago Community Centre in Tapanui spoke to the wide range in tastes and sensibilities of the exhibitors.
''Whatever they want to call art, it's art,'' she said. The West Otago Arts and Craft Exhibition is open daily to 4pm until Tuesday.