by Terri French
I am not drawn to art because it matches my throw pillows, nor am I keen on the bucolic, idyllic art of painters like Thomas Kincade. That’s why I like the work of Lowe Mill artist Katherine Purves.
When I first saw her work, hanging outside the 1st floor studio, “Calypso Swan,” I came in for a closer look. There was more there than met the eye. I wasn’t sure of the medium or the technique. Being the inquisitive journalistic type that I am, I had to peek my head into the studio to question the artist herself.
On the day we spoke, Katherine was busy readying herself for the December 8th Gallery Tour, her second at Lowe Mill. Samantha, a black lab mix, contentedly snoozed beneath her work space.
Her textured wall decor is called Recycled Paper Relief Casting. In fact, you could say Calypso Swan studio is the Lowe Mill recyclery.
“All of the artists bring me their trash,” she said. As if on cue, a neighbor walked in with a stack of fabric scraps for her to peruse.
Katherine makes her paper from cardboard, newsprint, shredded office paper, bits of cotton, fabric threads and other found items that would otherwise be destined to the trash bin. She creates a clay design on glass, then from that a rubber mold is formed. The paper pulp is then pressed into the mold and allowed to dry.
“I prefer the natural brown shades but will ad hints of color with bits of thread and detailed stitching,” she said.
The “Tree of Life” was one of her first - and continues to be one of her most popular - pieces. Though many pieces can be created from the same mold, no two final projects are exactly alike.
“I collect old Time-Life nature books for ideas . . . and sometimes I’m inspired by dreams.”
A couple of her creations are just strange enough to be characters in a nightmare or Grimm’s fairy tale. The first three-dimensional piece is simply called, “Orca.” The whale-like monster is created from duct tape and baby doll parts. Another adorable monster, “Alice,” resembles a caterpillar, with a sweet cherubic face and scorpion tail.
“My nephew said it was weird, but I like the juxtaposition of cute versus creepy,” she said.
A signature piece, displayed in the studio window, is the dried lemon peel party dress over a metal cage form. The dried “fruit leather” from her own tree in California, is stitched together to form a rather stunning patchwork garment.
Katherine received a degree in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego in 2006. Though she thought of herself as a painter in school, she moved on to explore sculpture and stained glass before making paper and opening her studio at Lowe Mill.
“I like the open atmosphere and community at Lowe Mill. I encourage people to come in, take a closer look and ask questions.”
Well I had come closer and I had asked questions, but like Lieutenant Columbo I had to come back, scratching my head for “Just one more thing.”
Why “Calypso Swan?”
Katherine received the name (which she and the studio share) from a co-worker/friend during a fire circle while working at a wilderness therapy program called “Redcliff Ascent” in Utah. As part of the program - which is loosely based on survival skills, theology/mythology, and ritual of the Paiute Indians - students often attain a personal growth that earns them a "Naming.”
“Calypso is a Greek minor deity, a moon of Saturn, an Afro Cuban politically relevant hip musical genre, an orchid, among other things. I am still the ugly duckling working toward my life as a swan. But the focus is on potential,” said Purves, “Basically, ‘Calypso Swan’ embraces my potential for growth, and allows me to make a few ugly mistakes while I get the orbit worked out. The name is one that always invites change, rhythm or growth, and the swan gives the elusive promise of future beauty.”
Fortunately artistic growth allows for and even encourages “mistakes.” Multimedia artist Katherine Purves dares to experiment and to cross boundaries. The results speak for themselves. If that ain’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.
Lowe Mill hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.