Artist’s work explores the cracks
and spaces between things, and how those things are put back together
by Madeleine Ahlborn | firstname.lastname@example.org
I had the pleasure of meeting with Kathy, not just once, but twice in the Adams State University Cloyde Snook Gallery. Our first meeting was just the two of us in the space and “take 2”, we were surprised by and thrilled to see Bill Tites Studio 1 class enter through the gallery doors. (More of this experience will be shared in a podcast episode to follow.)
There are many words, many laughs, and an extraordinary story told of the life this woman has lived, even a seemingly new life she has confronted and ‘bowed’ into beginning in 2019 when she was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. Did this stop her? No. Quite the opposite.
“you either get busy living or
you get busy dying, I needed
something to live for.”
THE first piece she introduces me to is Seashell, a piece made of marble and as “smooth as a baby’s butt.” Kathy shares that this is a technical term among sculptors (laughs). Stated in her biography she “wanted to create something simple and life-affirming.” Though creating a spiral is not easy to do, she had an extended period of time due the COVID-19 outbreak that postponed the installation of the retrospective.
Seashell: Carrara Marble on Black Granite 2019-2021
“Unlike many people whose work and lives were disrupted by the pandemic, I loved it. I loved the solitude, silence, and concentration of working on this stone and writing a book about my cancer journey “Bowing into sensei Glioblastoma.”
Since we were on a sculpting train we continued around the extensive talent she has not just in stone but also wood, clay, textile, and – though it is “flat” and hangs on a wall – small and extremely detailed beadwork.
Magic River:Beads on painted board 2011 (left) and
American Gothic Gone West: Watercolor, pencil, pen2009
WITH each piece created there is a story. A story from her life: where she has lived, where she has traveled, people that she has met, and people she has worked with and learned from. I asked about a thread that brings everything together, other than just her hand creating the shapes, and she explains to me “Tikkun Olam”: the concept of putting the broken pieces of the world back together; this is the artist’s job. In one of her books on display in the gallery, Seeing into Stone, she shows me a photograph of an early wood carving of a woman:
“The figure cracked after I started it, and it cracked right down her face, and I thought it was ruined because of my weird eyes. I was like ‘oh god, what’s this about? Like I need to be reminded that I’ve got weird eyes?’ But then, I went into the crack, I made it bigger. I owned it, I went further into it. So that’s the first chapter, the cracked woman.”
I want to highlight this moment in our conversation because the thread Kathy creates in her work has a lot to do with cracks that can be seen as fundamental lines: timelines, rivers, contour, convex and concave shape, figures, mosaics, snakes, seams, and wood grains (just to name a few). Kathy’s work radiates a unique signature-stitch that connects lost stories back together.
It does not surprise me at all that she has hand sewn quilts as part of the exhibition. The materials we use as artists – stone, wood, canvas, paper, color, textile – also carry their own symbolic meanings. The vast array of Kathy’s work shares the thread of Tikkun Olam but the message is shared within her many mediums. A universal story is carried in the seams and stitches of the quilts. Text and textile go hand in hand, just as the figures hold solitude with one another in the Prayer Circle.
Her volunteer work beginning a holistic health program in a federal women’s prison is represented partially in the quilts hanging in the center ring of the gallery; Forbidden Prayer Circle and Las Mujeres de la Luz (The Women of the Light). This work began much smaller and in a different artistic discipline; she knew it had to be bigger because “scale does matter.” Mosaic works stand out around the gallery, either cut up paper placed together or lines intentionally drawn to create a crack of separation then to be brought back together by pastel colors and opportunities for optical mixing.
Early Turbulence: Watercolor and Pen 2020
The lessons and light-seeking energy continue further past the quilts and stories she shared with me, it lives eternally throughout all of her work. “Tikkun Olam” is a powerful concept and one that is selfless.
“When the world is falling apart, which it always is, I think, pick up the pieces and put them together again, pick up the shattered pieces and make a mosaic of them. … I think it’s also the artist’s job. You see whatever it is you see and you experience whatever it is you experience, and it runs through your hopper and gets your flavor on it and you put it back out.”
Underground Spring: Watercolor and Pen 2017
Alongside her exhibit in the Cloyde Snook Gallery there is a bit of literature to bring context to her work. Look around the space, take your time understanding the stitches, phrases, and whispers that speak in the buttery marble, the layers of color, and inside the cracks of the mosaic. You may even see particles of your own story that hide in the in-between spaces.