Dominican alum Kathleen Harpole Solmssen is many things to many people. Many more than one can imagine. Now 70 years old, she has been a Screen Actors Guild card-carrying actress for more than 30 years. She is a model, an artist, an author, a poet, a blogger, a socialite, a teacher, a fundraiser, a photographer, a motivational speaker, an Opraholic and a jewelry designer who started her own showcase at Saks Fifth Avenue in Union Square 25 years ago.
She also is a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great friend from Dominican Class of 1965 who had to survive college before she could thrive from it. She discovered herself at Dominican.
“We got to see the world for two years before we had a choice on how to participate in that world and make our own world,” Kathleen said. “We were inspired. We weren’t judged.”
It wasn’t easy. She came to Dominican to study in the shadow of her esteemed big sister. Kathleen struggled to get through school. She had Attention Deficit Disorder. She would sit alone on the hills above Fanjeaux Hall and, though she underlined words and wore ear plugs to help her concentrate, she failed to retain most of what she had just read. She likened the Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Halloween’s “trick or treat.”
Yet life at Dominican beat life at home. About the only time she felt support at home in Oregon was when her dad helped her write a paper over the Christmas holidays that kept from flunking out of Dominican.
But she adapted like a chameleon and, with the help of supportive teachers, Kathleen became empowered, not devoured. She emerged from Dominican as an auspicious artist and resourceful human being, a cheerleader for Dominican, her teachers and her classmates.
“The Class of ’65 keeps this place alive!” was their motto and still is to this day.
By the time Kathleen graduated from Dominican she was ready to make her own world. She may have been considered a free spirit yet she had a serious purpose in whatever she did. She embarked on a journey that more resembled a circus than a career path. She tried everything and became a success in most everything. Part of her was following a passion. Part of her was just winging it.
“I don’t think these things out. I don’t do a big plan,” she said.
Once Kathleen decides what she’d like to do, she does it. Whether it’s going to the opera or the flea market where she browses to find anything that she might deftly transform into décor in her house in Alameda and beyond.
“I’ve spent my life with the cultural and artistic elite in the world, that was the nature of my work, and I’ve never met anybody more creative than Kathleen and that’s across a broad range,” said her husband Peter, former president at the Philadelphia College of Art.
Kathleen is in a word unique. She was one of 18 out of 38,000 who were selected to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s “Fabulous and Over Fifty” show 16 years ago. In 2009, she took discarded dolls and made an exhibit out of them – “Loved To Death” – and displayed them in the San Marco Gallery in DU’s Alemany Library. She is comfortable in Costco as she is in the de Young Museum.
“She just dives in and ends up with something terrific most of the time,” her husband says.
Kathleen is a team player as well. In January of 2012, she helped plan for a reception for 300 people to attend Peter’s photography exhibit -- Brazil in the 60s – at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco.
This is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and ideals. She is at ease speaking to 400 women at the Fairmont Hotel. She can design jewelry for the rich and famous. She writes for an international online magazine and is in the midst of writing a book. She writes a blog that has induced comments from as far away as Munich and Hong Kong.
In fact, the best way to keep track of Kathleen is to follow her on her Fashion With Flair blog http://fashionwithflair.blogspot.com/
That may be the only way to keep up with her, literally and figuratively
“You pray for boredom around me,” Kathleen quipped.