I first came across the work of artist Kathie Webb while I was excitedly perusing the pages of the current Fiber Art International Catalogue and her work seriously jumped off the page and into my heart. Her image in the show is an image of a domestic space with incredible detail included, the piles, the laundry, the cords of plugs, etc… and right in the center are 2 figures one being held in the arms by the other, also incredible detail in their clothing and body shape but their faces are left blank, not a stitch. I was so moved and intrigued, why all this detail and no detail in the face, why was this adult holding another figure that was roughly adult size, why was that room so messy and overwhelmed with stuff. So I seeked some information and here is the amazing story I found…
Please introduce yourself to us…
My name is Kathie Webb. I teach studio art at Rock Valley College in Rockford, IL. I was born in Oak Park, IL, grew up in Hillside, IL and now live in Rockford, IL. If given the opportunity I would love to move to Chicago or New York City. I am the mother of three, Josh, 27, Marissa, 25 and Kaitlin 17 and grandmother to Evie, 6 months old (Josh and his wife Becca). Throughout my life I have always been interested in hand work – be it embroidery, knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting, drawing, glass, wire…….
My undergrad degree was from Michigan State University where I studied acting and costume design. I designed costumes for the theatre program at Rock Valley College, many regional theaters and some Off-Broadway shows. I always wanted to pursue a master’s degree and thought it would be in theatre.
However after designing over 150 productions I felt the need to explore a different aspect of art. I enjoyed raising my three children while working in theatre however it became difficult after the birth of my youngest daughter, Kaitlin. Kaitlin is unable to walk or talk, has a seizure disorder, considered severely mentally impaired however happy, beautiful and the purest soul. The closest diagnosis is Rett Syndrome although she did not test positive for the gene. I rarely left her, Kaitlin’s, side the first eleven years of her life. I was then diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and realized that I needed to allow others to help care for Kaitlin in case something happened to me. “Through danger is opportunity” — the breast cancer made me look at life differently and it was because of the grace of Kaitlin that I was able to return to school.
I always had an interest with working with fibers. My grandmother taught me how to crochet and knit. My other grandmother was from the Ukraine and use to embroider but she passed away when my mother was young. When I was nine I wanted to learn to embroider so my mother brought me to a Woolworth’s store and bought me a “penny square” and showed me how to do the stem stitch. I taught myself from there how to do the other stitches as well as needlepoint, cross stitch and crewel. When I was seeking my MFA I needed a form of art that I could do while caring for Kaitlin and embroidery seemed the best choice. I gradually began to combine my interest in working with fiber reactive dyes with embroidery.
A lot of my work centers on my life with Kaitlin. The actual act of embroidery is meditative and relaxing. I feel that as you stitch your thoughts become part of the work. When you look at an embroidered work there is so much more to it than what you see.
and it allows her to work in public…
If I didn’t take the time to work in public I wouldn’t have time to make work. Some of my pieces are large scale and take a while to complete. I like the idea of knowing that I worked on a certain piece in a certain place.
When I asked Kathie about the composition of Everyday 1, this was her response…
I had intended for it (the work) to be viewed from the “right side” with the stitches carefully made in a neat and organized way. But then I realized this was not the true reflection of the situation. I try to act like everything is under control on the outside when it really isn’t on the inside. The truth of the matter is that my life is overwhelming and at times out of my control, so I decided that the back side with it’s strings and knots better reflected the situation. I left the faces blank because this piece could apply to anyone – not just me. I wanted to allow the viewers to be able to identify and put themselves in the piece. If they could not identify – maybe they could stand in my place for a moment and gain an understanding of how life is for some. Perhaps not everyone has the weight of a disabled child to bear but there are weights in everyone’s life that are overwhelming and although we try to embrace it and make the best of it, the weight takes it’s toll.
detail from Verbal, based on her daughters hands.
on the challenges and joys of working from such a very personal place and personal subject matter?
It’s fate and destiny. It is much easier to create work from your heart – from your own life’s experiences. I feel that it is a gift that I can express the uniqueness of my daughter and the relationship that I have with her.
I spent about ten years trying to find a diagnosis and “cure” for my daughter. I finally realized that she was put on this earth with her own gifts and from that moment on I felt a peace about her.
I have a series that I hand stitched on machine stitched notebook paper. When Kaitlin was in elementary school she was in full inclusion for a few years. Teachers were always concerned that I would be unhappy that Kaitlin did not progress at a fast pace. I learned that Kaitlin was actually the teacher. Kaitlin brings out the best in the most challenged situations. Some of her classmates who had behavior issues always seemed to be the ones who wanted to help her the most. They showed their good side as a result of her. It’s not always what we accomplish, sometimes it’s what others can accomplish because of us.
Her favorite part of not being in school anymore:
Making work that you don’t feel has to be accepted by your graduate committee. Not everything has to be conceptual and substantiated.
What is the next direction for your work?
I love to take pictures and have taken literally thousands of pictures from my trips to New York City. I’m working on some pieces that isolate moments that of human emotion. I’m also working on a subway series. I’m also experimenting with different ways of adding color to the fabric.
Your studio and studio practice?
First — I believe that you can only cook, clean or create and I choose to create. I also feel that you should work on what you are in the mood for and not fight with your own energy. So I have many pieces going at the same time at different stages. I dye fabric when I’m in the mood, draw when I’m in the mood…. I always try to embroider on something everyday.
I usually start with a photograph, bring it into photoshop and play with the composition — cut and paste…. I use a pen tablet to draw and edit the image. I print out the picture in mirror image on a large format printer that is toner rich. I then iron the print to my fabric, which when pulled off leaves enough toner on the fabric for me to see the basic composition. I then draw more detail on the fabric with a washable marker.
what else do you do in your life?
Last year I made a resolution to travel to New York City once a month. I kept that resolution. I love to see theatre and art and go to concerts. I also like to watch movies and will “watch” (actually listen to) series marathons while embroidering. I also listen to lots of audio books while working. I make myself go to the gym at least 3-4 times a week.
a day in the life of you...
I wake up around 7:30, feed the cats, some days work out, shower, throw in a load of laundry and do other housework until 9:30. I wake Kaitlin and get her ready for school. This can take up to 90 minutes as I have to do everything for her (bathe, feed, dress….) This semester I am teaching drawing, 3d design, surface design and advanced studio crit. I drive Kaitlin to school between 11:00 — 11:30 and then go to work. I do my prep work and then teach my classes in the afternoon and early evening. Kaitlin’s dad usually picks her up from the bus and a sitter stays with Kaitlin until I get home. Depending on the day I will spend some time with Kaitlin, feed her and then put her to bed. I usually stay up late and embroider. I have two other kids who don’t live at home— so I talk or text with them throughout the day.
Sounds to me like a life filled with art, love, and hard work.
You can see Kathies work, along with a lot of amazing work at the Fiber Art International Traveling Show. It will be at the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester (NY) May 1 — July 3 and then the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design October 13 — January 15, 2012.
Thank so much to Kathie for sharing her work with us!!
Until next time keep stitching.
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.