Friday Interview: Kath Connolly! July 08, 2011 10:31

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I'm going to introduce you to Providence's own, Kath Connolly. Kath is not only one of our artists, but also one of our biggest supporters. Any chance she has to promote handmade, the arts, or Craftland, she does it. Whether it's delivering her own handmade flowers to a government official, or decking herself out in all Craftland items for an awards ceremony, she does it. Recently, Kath was the recipient of The John Kiffney award which is presented annually to "those individuals, who, without celebrity or high rank, assure the success of the enterprises to which they are devoted; whose skill and craft define the goals and possibilities of their profession; and whose caring, courage and humor light the way for those who would follow." We love when our artists get the recognition they deserve, and couldn't be prouder that she also wanted to use the chance to give us a shout out. Here's the interview I did with her. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kath Connolly.  I grew up in Northern NJ and Southern VA.  I moved to Providence, RI in 1985 when the city was still known as "the armpit of New England."  Many of us saw the charm of this wacky, gritty place, and we would like the city to grant us special parking privileges now that the place is more popular.  By day I work at a public school. And because schools can be magical and demanding places, sometimes I also work there by night.

Describe your studio for us.
My studio is a spare bedroom in my l'il 1880s house.  It is a cozy place and I'm grateful to inhabit it.  The studio is small and has spilled over into the garage a little.  In Rhode Island, no one puts their cars in their garage.

What was the inspiration behind your felt flowers?
I've been reading about different craft forms that were popular during the Depression. It fascinates me that our country is in a severe economic decline at the same time that Handmade is enjoying a cultural resurgence for other reasons.  I started looking at penny quilt designs and playing around with the sewing boxes I inherited from my mother and grandmother.  Also, in the past few years I've spent a lot of time in hospitals with loved ones who are battling Various Scary Things -- where fresh flowers were forbidden.  All of that sparked the need to embroider felt flowers.

What do you think it is about Providence that makes it such a creative hub?
I think the most creative places are gritty, underdog places.  In part because that is where creative types can afford to live, and in part because those kinds of places encourage difference. Providence has enough grit and enough establishment to make for interesting conflicts. I also like to think that our history as a place for religious outcasts kind of set the stage for State Of Strange. In a good way, of course.

What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade means an odd combination of fascination with tradition and a rebellious bucking of the norm. I think of handmade as honoring my grandmothers as well as thumbing my nose at plastic manufactured stuff.  If attention to detail is a form of love, handmade is compassion and community.
I am blessed to be around at a time and place where crafts have a political edge.  Making your own way -- particularly collectively -- means freedom. For a while I ran a political greeting card company that generated funds for progressive causes. While I had the cards printed I considered the project a handmade form of protest to prevent me from losing my mind during the second Bush Administration.

"Felt Flowers Combat Government Bureaucracy in Hart Senate Office Building."

Tell us a little bit about some of the work you do with local young artists.
At the moment I work at a relatively new urban public school -- and it is a collective daily act of making.  Is it a dynamic and buzzing place and hundreds of stories are shared each day there.  I've also done work with college students who were interested in community arts work and students interested in public education. I worked at the fantastic Providence Children's Museum for a while too. I was lucky enough to be part of the group that helped start New Urban Arts, an incredible art studio/community for youth and the adults who are smart enough to know we have a lot to learn from young people.  I am interested in how creativity and growth are nurtured and how they are inhibited. Selfishly, I am nourished by being around creative thinking from people of all ages.

Kath (sporting a pin from Craftland) and student at the Learning Community.

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I am essentially cranky.  I've never liked those saccharine little journals with a ribbon and matching pencil.  Frankly, those blank books kind of piss me off.  So I made a series of books called Journals for Difficult Times that had rubbery pages of silicone caulk -- some had embedded nails and other included my own hair.  These were vessels for the kind of anger and general discomfort that motivate me to journal.  I bumped into Amazing Margaret Carleton on the street one day and she said that she and Johanna Fisher were putting together a show and wanted to sell those journals.  Two thoughts collided in my mind:  (1) "my own mother would not buy those journals," and (2) "you like my journals!"  So I'm proud to say I was part of the very first Craftland show.

Guilty Pleasure?
Cookies and gin.  Things created by Trey Parker & Matt Stone.  An entire afternoon at Beavertail State Park.