Katelyn was always sure she’d be an artist. Throughout her career, she’s combined painting, beading, fabric, and embellishing to build out installation-based exhibits that quite literally stop people in the street. As this summer’s CPL Maker-in-Residence, she’s bringing these skills to the Library.
Born and raised in Indiana, she received her BFA in painting and a BA in Art History from Indiana University. She credits her decision to pursue art as a career to being surrounded by supportive people. As a child, Katelyn’s mother, a schoolteacher, encouraged her to be crafty and both her parents have always been supportive of her art. Her teachers in high school especially showed her the endless possibilities a career in art would offer. “I feel like I had a lot of very good teachers who exposed me to different things and really allowed me to believe the arts are a valid form of making a living,” Katelyn said.
But it wasn’t until college that she really started coming to her own as an artist. In fact, it was a critique in class that led her to launch her art career in Chicago. “One of my professors told me one of my paintings was not very good but that it would make a really great textile design. They told me, ‘You should look into textile design as a potential career,’… So, I got an internship at a company called Mata Traders on the Northside of Chicago,” said Katelyn.
Seven years after completing her internship, Katelyn has created several screen print designs and has also designed display installations for Anthropologie, and Ground Level Platform.
Always finding ways to apply her multidisciplinary artistic skills, Katelyn currently works as a landscaper.
Drawing Inspiration from Nature and Science
Katelyn’s artwork has largely focused on fashion, nature, and the connection between the two.
A lot of her creative process involves exploring a park or going to nature and studying her surroundings more intimately, like noticing the way a flower looks, feels, even differentiating whether it’s a native or invasive species.
What makes her artwork stand out is the visceral texture of her pieces through the combination of thread, embroidery, embellishments, and paint, which creates a more organic feel. For example, her use of thread recreates the raggedness or smoothness of a leaf.
“It adds another layer of dimension and I like when people can’t really tell what my work is made from immediately,” Katelyn said on her use of mixed media. “They think, ‘Oh, is that paint or is that a fabric, beads?’All those things are trying to make people look and observe more closely.”
By using mixed media, Katelyn has been able to create more installation-based environments for people to explore and engage with on a deeper level. “I think it connects with people in sort of a different way than I think paintings do,” she mused. “I love painting, but I don’t know, environments really bring people a lot of joy and kind of stop them in the street.”
And stop them in the street they do! Some of Katelyn’s most recent projects, created in collaboration with her scientist friend Dr. Beth Reinke, include ornate, life-like storefront installations focused on the idea of an imagined scientific future. Think human-modified birds, cicada flour packaging, and genetically-enhanced butterflies.
With these storefronts, and with her solo work, Katelyn hopes to challenge the conversations being had about climate change and our relationship to nature. “I find art to be a gateway to starting discussions and perspectives,” she added.
Bringing Art and Nature to CPL
When asked about her Library story, Katelyn remembers spending her summers reading at the Indianapolis Public Library. Now she’s spending her summer with CPL patrons at the Maker Lab! As one of two Makers-in-Residence this 2021, she’s bringing her ideas about art and nature to the Library. This time, she’s asking Library patrons to join in her creative process and look at nature with fresh eyes.
“It’s really nice to have an institution to work within that already reflects what I’m trying to do with my art, which is outreach and education and just bringing people together,” she said. “I really like to collaborate with people who are not necessarily professional artists… It’s interesting to hear people’s different perspectives of how different people think about the process of creating.”
During her virtual Maker Lab workshops, Katelyn has been teaching Library goers how to create paper versions of native Chicago plant species as a way of teaching them both art skills and ecology. “I’ve also created PDF files that are step-by-step of everything that I’m teaching in the workshop so there are multiple ways of learning…” she said. “I’m hoping that since I have put this other virtual aspect of the step-by-step PDF’s that it will reach a wider audience. That is the benefit of virtual workshops. That people who couldn’t make it to the Library on a Wednesday night can feel empowered to create art at their own pace and in their own time.”
CPL: A Hub for Collaboration Amongst Makers, New and Experienced
What makes Katelyn’s residency so unique is how much its rooted in collaboration with Chicagoans.
For her final project, “An Interpretive Field Guide to Chicago,” she’s asking Library patrons of all ages (yes, even those who don’t consider themselves artists or Makers) to submit photos or artwork of green spaces they’ve visited or have a connection to. And she’s sharing all submissions on @fieldguidechicago on Instagram!
These community photos and observations are key to shaping what the final project will look like, Katelyn explained. “I really want it to be something that lots of different people are contributing to and then having this interpretation that is probably going to be heavily a lot of paper plants and a mixed-media installation of these things.”
To Katelyn, one of the joys of her residency and being in the Maker Labs is seeing people of all creative skill levels make art. “It’s interesting how there makers who don’t necessarily consider themselves artists. There’s the debate in the fine art world about, like, craft versus fine art and I feel like I’m right down the middle of a lot of those things because I don’t think of one of those as being more valid than the other, and that’s something that I really like about the Maker Lab. It really opens up these different venues and connects them together in like a really accessible way.”
What makes a Maker anyway? “I don’t think there’s a level of craft you need to achieve,” according to Katelyn. “I think it’s more about your enthusiasm and willingness to come to some sort of material and make it into whatever you feel like it should be made into.”
And CPL is a great space to do so! Join Katelyn for the remainder of her Maker Lab workshops and submit your photos to be a part of her Interpretive Field Guide.
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