Katherine Westphal, Creator of Unusual Textile Art, Dies at 99

Katherine Westphal, Creator of Unusual Textile Art, Dies at 99


Her quirky synthetic velvet quilt “Hawaiian Kitsch” features heat-transfer-printed images of her wearing a lei and appearing to float above a pyramid. Another quilt, “New Treasures From Tutankhamun,” includes repeated photos of camels and one of her with a group on a trip to Egypt. In “Giverny II,” she used the heat transfer technique to print multiple floral images onto handmade paper, then pieced and machine-stitched them into a kimono-shaped garment.

“She loved garment shapes, particularly kimonos, that were good for manipulating two-dimensional imagery,” Lauren Whitley, a senior curator in the department of textile and fashion arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, said in a telephone interview. “She intended them to be worn, but she realized some people just hung them on their walls.”

Ms. Westphal’s vessels include “Tiananmen Square,” a gourd wrapped in dyed images of Chinese protesters there in 1989 and tied in straw.

Photo

“October: A Walk With Monet,” a patchwork example of Ms. Westphal’s heat transfer technique from 1992.

Credit
Tom Grotta/Browngrotta Arts

Ms. Stabb said in an email that Ms. Westphal’s background as a painter and designer of commercial textiles encouraged her to experiment and take risks. And, she added, Ms. Westphal’s “sense of humor also informed much of her work.”

“She was always quietly laughing — almost giggling — as she described whatever she was working on,” Ms. Stabb said.

Ms. Westphal was married to another textile artist, Ed Rossbach, whose specialty was using unusual materials like twigs, rice paper, metal foil and bread bags in his basketry. Mr. Rossbach, a major influence on contemporary fiber arts, died in 2002. No immediate family members survive.

“Their work demonstrated a restlessness and playfulness,” Ezra Shales, a professor of art history at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, said in a telephone interview. “They could fuse imagery from mass culture and patterns from ancient textiles with élan, without becoming didactic or heavy-handed.”

Photo

“The Puzzle of the Floating World #2,” a transfer print on a quilt made by Ms. Westphal in 1976.

Credit
Tom Grotta/Browngrotta Arts

Ms. Westphal was born on Jan. 2, 1919, in Los Angeles. Her father, Leo, was a manager for a grocery store chain, and her mother, the former Emma Kaker, was a homemaker.

As a child, Katherine spent much of her time “cutting up things and assembling things and drawing and coloring and making doll clothes,” she told an interviewer in 1984 for an oral history at the University of California, Berkeley.

She designed jumpsuits for her dolls and rejected the furniture that came with a dollhouse that her parents had given her, instead crafting furniture from used pieces of wood that she got from an uncle.

“Great messes all over the house and yard,” she recalled in the oral history, describing her artistic activities. “But I was content, I guess.”

Photo

Ms. Westphal “loved garment shapes, particularly kimonos, that were good for manipulating two-dimensional imagery,” a Museum of Fine Arts curator said.

Credit
Tom Grotta/Browngrotta Arts

While in junior high school, she said, she routinely roller-skated three miles from her home to Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. And without many friends or artistic connections to her family, she longed to leave home.

“I wanted to go out into the great, big wonderful world,” she said in “Ties That Bind” (1997), a book of essays about her and Mr. Rossbach’s work by Paul J. Smith and Jan Janeiro. “I don’t think I had a specific goal.”

She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting at Berkeley. During her graduate studies in Mexico, she met the muralist Diego Rivera.

“On my jacket I had an enameled pin that I had made,” she said in “Ties That Bind,” “and Diego Rivera was very fascinated with this little pin. I wouldn’t give it to him because it was my prized possession, the best enameled thing I’ve ever done.”

Photo

“Two Runner Pots,” a heat transfer photo copy collage and drawing that Ms. Westphal made in 1993.

Credit
Tom Grotta/Browngrotta Arts

She taught art the University of Wyoming for a year and then, starting in 1946, at the University of Washington for four years. She then worked as a freelance textile designer before becoming a professor of design at the University of California, Davis, where she taught from 1966 to 1979.

While at Davis, she discovered a new photocopier, which she filled with coins while experimenting with a new artistic form.

“It was the perfect medium, allowing her to rapidly exploit her magpie-like instincts,” the art website Hyperallergic wrote after her death. “Westphal deployed the copy machine as an instant form generator, combining it with other techniques, from embroidery to heat transfer.”

Ms. Westphal retired from teaching in 1979 but continued her textile work.

At an exhibition in 2001 of little altarlike structures she made of a jumble of materials, she was asked why, in “Kong’s Castle,” she had combined a tiny plastic gorilla on a floor of Chinese script with two gold cockroaches climbing a tower made of a paper-towel tube.

In keeping with the freewheeling approach that characterized her career, she said there had been no plan.

“I just let that happen,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s very much an intuitive thing. To a certain extent, it’s a kind of meditation; you go off into a different world, and you just go where it takes you.”



Source link

About The Author

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *