Kathee: ‘My work has always reflected my life

Published 3:18 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some of Kathee's ongoing projects. Photos by Kathee Kiesselbach

A printmaker from the age of 14 when she took a summer art class with South Bend artist Marian Pilarski, I was always the kid who the grade school nuns pulled out of math class to draw pictures for their bulletin boards.

I remember one time two of us were pulled out to do a poster for Holy Week – each class was to do one Station of the Cross. The nuns used us to compete with each other. We had to finish it on time, so the other girl was assigned to draw the cross, while I was told to draw the character of Jesus. The girl was mad that I got the better assignment, and the next week she stole my boyfriend!

I attended St. Joseph High School in South Bend where I was again singled out – this time to learn copper plate etching using acid. As a junior, I won the only Scholastic Gold Key award in my school that year with a drypoint print of my bedroom. My high school years had been spent in the studio every chance I got. After high school, I enrolled at Indiana University in South Bend and studied printmaking with Deloris Davisson, drawing with Tony Droege and painting with Harold Zisla. Then came a 15-year marriage and raising two sons. Being a printmaker got put on the back burner like it does for so many single mothers who have kids to raise.

In 2000, while searching the Internet for printmakers, I discovered the Wood Engravers’ Network headquartered in nearby Ann Arbor, Mich. I met with wood engraver Jim Horton, who taught me the basics and provided the encouragement and networking necessary. The group not only exchanges prints twice a year, but sponsors other opportunities to show one’s work. I became interested in wood engraving while in high school after seeing some Albrecht Dürer prints. An inexpensive printmaking technique, it easily be done at home.
WEN members, scattered from Luxembourg to Seattle, are often book arts people and letterpress printers as well, and soon I was hooked on letterpress. I was soon teaching letterpress at the Box Factory in St. Joseph on a Vandercook proof press that was donated through me.

I returned to IUSB to study again, this time with Alan Larkin, as the computer had completely changed printmaking, and I was eager to regain my connection to the local art community. One of the highlights of going back to school was taking sculpture class with my youngest son, David. He didn’t want anyone to know I was his mom, but he would not leave me alone in class. The girls his age didn’t know what to think. He would carry my tools out to my car, and leave in his own car. He finally gave up, and I started hearing him call me “mom” from across the room. My resulting work from those years – solar plate intaglio prints, etchings, wood engravings, lithographs and serigraphs – was exhibited in her BFA show in 2005.

After leaving school, I applied for a position at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph as director of marketing, and after more than 30 years at Notre Dame, I took that position only to be laid off in 2009. Now, unemployed, I am considering what the future holds.

My first prints in college were of dreams I had as a kid in high school. My dreams were vivid and were interpretations of things happening in my life at the time. After many more years, my work reflected a more adult life, involvement in Newfoundland dog rescue, an interest in genealogy, gardening and international travel. I had taken hundreds of photos overseas that I wanted to use.

They were gorgeous images shot in Borneo, Malaysia, Morocco, Rome and I was really excited about them. I thought they’d be perfect for solar plates and linocuts.

I have shown consistently locally and nationally and have had some international shows as well. I feel another turning point coming in my work. I long to paint again, to try new things, to immerse myself deeper into the art community I love. My work has always reflected my life, and life is always changing.

My work can be seen at SL Consignment Gallery in Buchanan, Mich. There will be wine and cheese receptions in the eight or so galleries in downtown Buchanan on Saturday, May 29 from 6 to 10 p.m. during “Unsanctioned,” the next amazing arts and culture event.