To give you a taste of the pie, below is a clip from my conversation with textile artist and painter Janet Kuemmerlein.
Her career in Kansas City spans decades with monumental fiber installations both in Kansas City and around the world. Her success is a testament to will, perseverance, and an unshakeable confidence that being an artist is serious business. Our conversation took place in her ranch-style home, which is really one sprawling studio, with one room of artwork flowing into the next. I had a sense of being uniquely immersed in the inner workings of the artist’s mind and life in a way that the rough, industrial spaces of many artist studios rarely, if ever, convey. At once surrounded by past work, a library of influences, works in progress and ephemera untold, the inspiring and delightful warmth of Kuemmerlein’s spirit threads it all together.
I hope you enjoy this clip and I look forward to sharing the full conversation during Women’s History Month of 2017.
As I tried to capture the flavor of the feminist art scene of Kansas City in the 1970s, my research brought me a batch of newsletters in the Chris Almvig Collection at the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, housed at the LaBudde Department of Special Collections at The University of Misosuri – Kansas City. These publications chronicled the Kansas City chapter of the Women’s Liberation Union, which fired up around 1970 as one of the first local feminists collectives. It took its name from the first such publication, Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement, spearheaded by Jo Freeman in Chicago, IL, sparked into being by the patriarchal condescension and dismissal of the women’s caucus at the 1967 National Conference of New Politics.
This was a time when a woman could be fired from a job for being pregnant. She couldn’t apply for a credit card on her own. Sexual harassment in the workplace wasn’t considered a thing and if you were single, practicing birth control was illegal. As larger organizations took on these broader legal battles, the smaller, grassroots Liberation Unions spoke to the consciousness-raising efforts of the early-to-mid 1970s, declaring that “the personal is political,” and “Sisterhood is powerful.” However, rather than digging deeper into the history, tempting as that is, the following is a delightful tangent — a showcase of the art of the newsletters themselves.
Browsing through the collection, I was quickly struck by the line drawings peppered in between practical guides, poetry, political calls to action, and personal revelations. They were simple, clean, rendered yellow with age, yes, but striking and always expressive. The first newsletter in the collection is an early one, with later covers taking on a more designed quality.
Many of the drawings were left unattributed, but the primary contributors of these drawings are believed to be by members of the collective, Patt Gateley and Julie King.
By 1974, full illustrations were incorporated into the covers. As the movement hit its stride in the middle of the decade, the publication benefited from a more organized feel, but hand drawings still graced many of its pages. Each issue became centered around an organizing theme that yet included diverse content. One could browse both personal and political essays, learn about an all woman music production company, read poetry, or clip a coupon to receive $50 off your purchase of a car from the first female salesperson at the Chevrolet dealership in town.
We end on my personal favorite, which is the result of the paper’s transparency, the layered placement drawings on back-to-back pages, and serendipity. A slightly haunting collaged effect is created by the watermark-like effect of the text on the next page, while the tail end of a butterfly’s wing takes on the appearance of a faint tear on the woman’s face. That this effect was presumably unintentional somehow gives it an added layer of poignancy, as it captures a sense of both beauty and pain, of simplicity and simultaneously complex subtlety.
More drawings will be featured in future posts. Until then, if you’d like a bit more on the history of feminist movement of the time, here’s a clip of archival footage (which at times, proves that media bias is nothing new).
And if love your history, here’s a full-length BBC documentary:
That’s your slice of art pie for today. Until we nosh again,
The breadth of the Kansas City art scene is practically culinary. It is a rich stew, with both satisfyingly palatable and surprising bursts of contrasting flavor. For the art aficionado, it is delicious. Whatever flavor you prefer, Kansas City has a rich arts scene, and like a great meal, it deserves to be shared.
With this in mind, KC Art Pie will launch in March of 2017 as an artist-run podcast featuring the artist of our local creative culture. Season one of the podcast will focus on a specific multimedia project, Femin• Is,allowing KC Art Pie to develop with a clear focus and then branch out to other projects and topics in the future. So, we will start with a recipe, but eventually, we will be mixing up all sorts of creations with the ingredients on hand (which, incidentally, is how I cook most of the time).
There are many great resources for arts-related content in Kansas City. The KC Art Pie podcast is simply an addition to the menu. Kansas City has a growing reputation, both nationally and, dare I say, internationally, as a developing hub for the arts. As an artist living here for over a decade, the growth has been clear, but the only way to continue to build our reputation is to keep the conversation growing and introduce more people to this Midwestern art smorgasbord. If all I can offer are a few whispers and appetizers, so be it.
In the spring of 2017, KC Art Pie will launch as an arts podcast for the Kansas City scene with the debut of the season one project, Femin • Is: Portrait of Kansas City Feminism Then and Now
Femin • Is will be an equal part local history project, part contemporary examination, and part visual exhibition. The project will be released as season one of the KC Art Pie podcast, showcasing interviews and oral histories from artists active during the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1970’s in the Kansas City area as well as contemporary creatives working with an evolving definition of feminism. The podcast will debut during Women’s History Month, March 2017, with a culminating exhibition of collaborative portraits to follow in the summer. Fusing emotional, political, and theoretical concerns with the artist’s creative process, this project endeavors to capture personal histories and share contemporary perspectives while engaging with an often charged topic in our culture.
The podcast series will connect with a portrait series, which will be based on text that individuals from the interviews select as something historically or personally significant to them. What does that look like? An example can be found on one of the Power & Light KC Streetcar Stop (up through October 2016).
Yes, it’s all text! You can view more portraiture in this style here. Stay tuned in the coming months for the first interview. Sign up to be on the email list here or add http://www.kcartpie.com to your favorite RSS reader.
Finally, I am happy to share that Femin • Is has received an Inspiration Grant from the ArtsKC Regional Arts Council. This will allow the podcast and this website to get off the groud.
For a taste of things to come, listen to this clip featuring local art historian, curator and writer, Elizabeth Kirsch, on a bit of feminist history in the Kansas City art scene.
I recently met with two freshly minted graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute, Heavenly Ehrhart and Kiki Serna. Their year-long thesis project, which culminated in the BFA exhibition at the H&R Block Artspace, revolved around the behavior of catcalling in the Midtown area.
It quickly became clear how complicated this seemingly minor issue is. The artists encountered repeated and often disturbing experiences of women, themselves included, alongside the dismissal women who hadn’t been subjected to similar situations. Ehrhart and Serna also encountered men who were genuinely unaware and surprised at the behavior, alongside the catcallers themselves, either mistakenly convinced that their comments were compliments, or at worst, aggressively aware of their actions.
Ehrhart and Serna’s thesis project explored methods of engagement with these catcallers and included performance, video, printmaking and public outreach. We spoke at length about their process and reactions to it as well as the systemic cultural origins that propagate such micro-aggressive behaviors. Here is an excerpt on how they got started on this year-long project to call out the catcallers.
Rachelle Gardner-Roe: Tell me a little bit about the components of your project.
Heavenly Ehrhart: We really started to approach this project based on research and a lot of what we were thinking about is, “How can we capture micro-agression, or how can we approach micro-aggression that we experience every day as women walking in spaces that we’re supposed to be comfortable in. So we started walking around.
Kiki Serna: We would walk our daily routes. We don’t have cars, and so we walk everywhere. We initially started with a point and shoot camera.
EH: We had the point and shoot and then we had the video recorder. We were trying to, without approaching them, to capture what they were saying, which is something that we asked a lot of questions about early on. What are things that have been said to you in a public space that you’re supposed to be comfortable in? And a lot of women actually had a hard time pinpointing what was said. But they all knew that they weren’t comfortable with it, they knew it was heckling, they knew it was aggressive. They knew that it was, at points, stalking.
We put a hat on and we hid the Go Pro with a little hole in it and were walking around. Any time a guy approached us, looked at us, we would look at them and try to document them without talking to them. Then we got to a point where we were like, ok, we’ve got all this documentation, how can we take the next step that will further this confrontation?
KS: We’re not doing anything constructive. We’re just capturing them, but we’re not solving anything. So we came up with a dialogue.
EH: Yeah, dialogue and questions. And those questions, I think, were the leading factor of our piece after that. So I think one of the questions we started with was “Are you aware that you are making me feeling uncomfortable,” which ended up being the title of the piece, You Made Me Feel Uncomfortable, and Uncomfortable for the BFA.
RGR Are all of those questions listed on the catcalling blog?
EH: Yeah, Heavenly actually made cards that had the statements on them because we at the time when we started to implement these questions a lot of the guys we were talking to would be really stunned. So she made these business cards. We would hand these out to them. We wanted also to facilitate a safe way or comfortable way for the subject to feel safe and to be able to, confront them in this sense, but also feel safe enough to walk away.
KS: I handset each of these type on a machine and then cut all the paper. I thought it was really important, the time put into these, because we give these out for free. They’re not really going to know what letterpress is and the time put in, but I think it was important for us.
To learn more, including what constitutes as catcalling, as well as images and video of the artists’ performance work, visit the artists’ blog at Confronting Catcalling KC.