I spent my career in Louisville KY as a newspaper journalist and then a writer and editor for an international consulting firm. Since retiring, I have worked full time as an artist. My husband and I began our marriage with three years living in Germany and ever since have traveled as much as we possibly can, and I’ve been fortunate to visit six of the seven continents. Since retirement, with more time at our disposal, we particularly enjoyed traveling on cargo ships and cruise ships. Unfortunately, cargo ship travel was largely shut down by the world financial crisis, as global trade was severely cut for a long time. And I fear that cruise ship travel has been changed forever by the pandemic, not for the better. It’s a good thing we traveled as much as we did while we could.
I learned sewing, embroidery and other kinds of handwork from my grandmothers and made my own clothes for 30 years. I am a self-taught quilter, starting my first quilt in high school using leftovers from garment sewing. Decades ago I decided to get serious about quilts as art and decided I had to devote all my discretionary free time to that end. So I stopped sewing garments – that very day, leaving four dresses in progress, to which I have never returned. I still do mending, which I love – bring me your tired, your poor, your tattered pantslegs yearning to breathe whole.
After several years of working exclusively with quilts, my practice broadened to include mixed media art in both two and three dimensions. I have made daily art every year since 2003, in several different mediums. And I have returned to the hand stitching that I learned as a child, but with fewer rules and a lot more originality.
My work has been shown in both quilt and all-media shows in the US and Europe. Several pieces have been included in juried exhibits organized by Studio Art Quilt Associates, which have toured extensively on four continents. One of my works was included in Quilt National ’09 and won the prestigious Quilts Japan Prize. The award was a trip to Japan in the summer of 2010 where I taught two workshops for the Japan Handicraft Instructors Association.
Since 2016 I have been a member of PYRO Gallery, a cooperative enterprise in Louisville. My work is always on display at the gallery and on our website.
I write about art and life in my blog Art With a Needle, and post all my daily art on Kathy’s Daily Art.
How did you get to be an artist?
I grew up in a family that worshiped God, art and newspapers. My father was the arbiter of art, which he defined as representational images. When it became apparent, at about age 4, that I could not draw, that meant that I was not an artist.
That was fine with me, as I certainly agreed that I could not draw. I figured my role in life was to be a patron of the arts instead, and spent decades looking at, acquiring and loving art by other people. Meanwhile I took up quiltmaking and was strongly drawn to the format of the traditional quilt, although the quilts I made were generally of more original design, and over the years the quilts came off the bed and went onto the wall.
One day as I sat at my sewing machine working on a quilt, the voice in my head loudly announced, “This could be art!” A minute later it said, “I could be an artist!” Another minute and it said, “I WILL be an artist!” Although I still can’t draw very well, I have learned to make art using abstract forms and unconventional techniques (i.e. the sewing machine).
What is your art about?
I make two kinds of art: “serious” and otherwise. The serious art, although it’s usually abstract, is almost all about politics in one way or another – the decisions we make about our society, our economy, our place in the world. It tends to be really big, to match its themes.
The otherwise art incorporates a lot of miscellaneous stuff picked up from the street as I walk, recycled from things about to be thrown away, given to me by friends and strangers, and found unexpectedly in my studio. It tends to be small, handwork-intensive, maybe a little bit weird.
What’s your secret vice?
Regarding art, it’s the thrill I get out of working with other people’s scraps. I feel vaguely guilty because it’s not “serious work” but it recharges my batteries. And over time, as people get to know about it, they will give me all manner of stuff that can become art.
How do you come up with ideas?
I do not sleep very well and frequently find myself lying awake in bed for an hour at 3 or 4 am. It is amazing what good thinking I can do, especially regarding art issues. I think that lying in darkness allows me to do better visualization -- but on second thought, I don't actually do my art thinking with a lot of pictures. Rather I tend to think about the concept. In either case, having no visual distraction seems to help me focus a lot better.
I don’t keep sketchbooks or even make many sketches. Many artists know in advance what they want their next piece to look like. By contrast, I do it in words: describe a process or pose a problem or make a list of specifications. Then I find out what the piece is going to look like by following the directions and seeing what happens. To me, all the fun lies in the discovery. If I knew in advance how a piece was going to look, I could just as well send it out to a third-world sweatshop to have it made up.
What is your objective as a teacher?
It is my goal to free every quilter, whether beginner or journeyman, from the tyranny of other people’s patterns. I love to show quilters how to work on a design wall, making small modules and then arranging and rearranging them as the work progresses. I want to teach people how to watch and listen to the fabric and let it tell them what it wants to do.
With my mentoring students, my objective is to help them understand and articulate their objectives. In many ways, it’s more like psychotherapy than like traditional art tutelage. People get stuck in ruts, or in funks, for reasons that aren’t always apparent; and they sometimes discover that the projects that have frustrated them are being done for the wrong reasons. My main role as a mentor is often to sweep new ideas off the table and urge a narrower, sharper focus on the preexisting ideas that have not yet been thoroughly explored.
You’re one of those longtime Nancy Crow students, aren’t you?
Yes, I attended my first class at the Crow Barn in 2003 and proceeded to spend sixteen week-long workshops with her over the next eight years, and topped it off with a week teaching at the Barn. Nancy helped me develop my eye, taught me that you should rip out a piece and do it over if it’s even a quarter-inch too big, and showed by example how a passionate focus on your art is a fine way of life.
Until 2007, Nancy had all her works hand quilted but was afraid it was going to be more difficult to find people to help her with this time-consuming and important task. She asked me to machine quilt three of her small pieces as an experiment to see whether machine quilting would complement her quiltmaking style.