A long way from her Southern roots now, Kim Kaelin first learned about rug hooking from a DIY cable television show in 1993. Commenting about that era being pre-Google, she combed the Louisville phone book in search of rug hooking information, classes or a shop. Not to be found until almost ten years later after she and her family had moved to snowy Minnesota. A local shop advertised a beginning rug hooking class and she had found her bliss.
One of Kim’s mantras is “to get the rug up off the floor!” She feels there are so many beautiful rugs made, but because the hookers (as they are affectionately known) don’t want their work efforts to be walked on, they put the rugs safely away. Kim’s proposition is to take the hooked pieces and turn them into a functional work of art. This very idea along with Kim’s love of folk art decor, has given way to a very successful rug hooking class called the Footstool Workshop where the students make folk art footstools, benches and other small pieces of furniture. Kim now teaches this class in Hudson, Wisconsin, Milwaukee and in Detroit, Michigan.
Kim says she loves rug hooking for several reasons; the touch of the wool, the rhythm of the hooking and the color. Getting into the tempo; the movement of the hooking process itself and the feel of the material put Kim into a type of flow where hours fly by without notice.
Wool is the medium Kim uses most often to make the tops for her whimsically decorative art form. I think the contemporary use of the word maker is interesting in our world of combining elements of DIY, Craft and Fine Art. In an article written by UK Professor Dr. Stephanie Bunn, who writes about our culture of materials and makers, the word maker should be spelled with a capital M. She talks about the ‘working with’ rather than the ‘doing to’ and says the relationship the maker has with her materials is a fundamental part of making experience. It’s not just the technique but the feel of the materials in the artists’ hands. It is this art of making with this particular material that is important for Kim.
Wool is sort of a chameleon. Because of the spectrum of ways it can be worked, wool offers its’ makers a wide range of experiences. Wool can be worked right off the hoof, spun, felted, or dyed. From there is can be cut, stitched, woven or sewn using any number of techniques that manipulate wool as a fiber or fabric. One of wool’s best properties is durability. Each use of the material interacts with the maker in its own particular manner. Kim enjoys the unique feel and visual properties of wool. As Ms. Bunn points out in her article, “we may see what we hope to create in our minds eye, but we embrace it through the movement of our bodies.” That describes the motions Kim uses when she pulls the wool fabric through the linen canvas. Sensing is a process of exploration through the material while the action creates the piece. When sensing and performance merge; the artist is working from the core of intuition. On being a Maker
Learning to trust your intuition and work from your core can feel like a risky endeavor so this past year Kim developed and taught a class called Creative Juice. The goal is to help class members get their creative juices flowing. Once a month the class gets together and begins with sharing and conversation. Kim says creativity is contagious and in a supportive and friendly environment, people are open to a new paradigm. From here, Kim guides the class to try out a variety of new materials, techniques and optimally, class members may even come up with original designs of their own. Venturing forth with one’s own designs (or writing) is risky—but well worth it!
To ask an artist how they approach their work is a pretty open ended question. Some people cite steps in a process and others begin at the point of recognized inspiration. Everyone does agree that inspiration may come from unlikely or even everyday sources such as the play of light through the trees or even toys on the living floor! It’s all in the looking and seeing. Books, online pin boards and publications are such a helpful tool because it’s all so well presented. Kim collects books to use as a reference; her collection (with many dog-eared pages) includes hundreds of books on color, famous artists, wildlife, home decor, and DIY projects. Kim thinks she’ll run out of time before she runs out of project ideas.
The actual hands on process of creating a folk art footstool or a commission piece has many steps with each step having its own charms and challenges. Kim enjoys combing flea markets and occasional sales for interesting benches and frames for small decorative pieces. Often she will build her own pieces out of turned legs and plywood and paint the wood in bright colors using a quirky and unexpected style. When all the elements come together she’s amazed at how the piece comes alive! She jokingly equates it to the clock and teapot in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale!
Kim is recognized for her contemporary twist on folk art. Her use of an eye catching color and exaggerated lines are an easily recognizable style. I took this photo in spring 2013 when the hooked top was complete prior to attaching the wood bench. Since then, the finished piece was selected to be a part of the annual issue of A Celebration of Hand Hooked Rugs. Look for the publication to be out late summer early fall 2014.
Kim is also known for her portrait work. This particular face is a representation of a friend’s daughter. Kim worked from a high school photo. In line with her folk art style, Kim adds a wool whorl and proddy trim. The trim adds dimension and accentuates their folk style even more! It magnifies the pillow’s charm factor—as if it wouldn’t be fabulous enough! The pillow backs are made from wool piecework. Kim says she has done quite a few commissioned portraits this year. Kim’s Dracula and Witch pillow portraits show off how much fun she has with Halloween décor.
In addition to her teaching and hooking, Kim organizes an annual show at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, MN. In its 5th year, the twenty or so rugs will be on exhibit during August and September, 2014. The theme of the show is “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Kim’s Halloween pillows!
P.s. Correction: The hooked sheep rug that appeared in the newsletter is called Curly and was designed by Melissa Elliot and hooked by Kim Kaelin.