Kathy Graybill has been one of the most directly inspirational artists I have met over the years. Her beautiful and complex body of work has motivated me to pursue an artistic avenue that I previously thought impractical – hand painted furniture and primitives. I have become familiar with her work over the last year, through a good friend and business partner Claudine at Our Town Antiques in Commerce. This is the store where I opened a mini-gallery over the summer. There are several of Kathy’s pieces in the store and I enjoy the opportunity to admire their artistry and share them with our customers.
This summer, I drove down to Atlanta for the 21st annual Folk Fest. Kathy and her husband were there with a wide array of their painted signs and furniture. Seeing an entire booth of her beautiful work was intimidating and overwhelming – but also inspiring. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of hours invested in the layering of the paints and glazes applied to the pieces.
I think one of the things that most inspires me about Kathy’s art is the heritage it conveys. Her furniture simultaneously gives the viewer a tangible connection to the history and culture of America. Through painstaking attention to detail and exquisite craftsmanship, Kathy and her husband (as well as several other artisans) recreate antique reproductions or repurpose and refinish antique pieces that have not weathered time as well as one might hope. Kathy’s painted furniture motifs have a strong historic aura about them because she has spent many years developing her style and technique.
Below is some information provided by Kathy directly, as well as a link to her web page. Please take the time to visit and share her work with others. If we want to instill a sense of heritage and pride in our country again, we must take a direct cultural approach. Patronizing the work of an artist who lovingly and painstakingly preserves the history, heritage and antiques of America is a wonderful way to support the growing movement to #TakeBackOurCulture.
Kathy Graybill Interview
Kathy, can you explain for those unfamiliar with some of the styles encompassed by your work, what each entails?
My husband and I do many different styles of painting, on many different mediums. We make our own pieces like the cupboards, chests, shelves, and signs. We also paint on antique boxes, furniture, etc. We do a lot of antique reproduction painting; recreating images on those pieces from the late 1700’s through the late 19th century.
I am a self taught primitive Folk Artist. I hand-draw everything and hand-paint as well, just like the original artists did back then. There are many steps and many layers of paint and finish, and each is hand applied, hand distressed, and antiqued by hand. It’s a lot of work, and it has taken years of doing this to get our look and finish.
Not many artists veer off of what they do or are comfortable doing, and stick to one style or medium. But, what sets us a part, and me in particular ,is the diversity in my work. After doing this for 16 years, and with both Jeff and I doing this for a living as our only source of income, it has been a struggle, a blessing, and many other things. But, we love what we do and do our best every day. This is usually 6-7 days a week.
What would you say is the dominant style in which you work?
Folk art is what our work is considered. I paint in a loose, freehand style. Many other artists have told me that they wish they could paint like me; that they are too tight in their work. Folk Art style is something you are born with, it is inside you, and it comes out and is expressed in your work. It really can’t be taught. I love what I do and I hope it shows in my work.
Do you upcycle or use existing antiques as a base, or is each piece custom-built before you paint it?
We got our start 16 years ago by painting on antique pieces. These include boxes, chests, cupboards, tables,etc. We make reproductions like cupboards, boxes, chests, shelves and our tavern signs, as well.
Jeff, my husband, is also an antique dealer who deals in period furniture in original paint, accessories, stoneware,etc. We are not painting anything with a great antique value, we use pieces that were “stripped and dipped”, or refinished, which was the craze years ago. They are great pieces, in great condition, with dovetailed joints, turned feet, etc. They’re very nice pieces, but we like to figure that we breath life back into them with the paint and images we put on them. They are then distressed, but not too much, and an antique finish is hand rubbed on. Upcycling, recycling, whatever you want to call it; we are recreating family heirlooms, or Hidden Treasures; hence our business name.
What is the inspiration for your folk sculptures?
The Folk sculptures come from our love of antique Folk Art. We collect Antique Folk Art, carvings, and other period pieces like original painted furniture, stoneware, etc. But, with the folk sculptures we make, we try to be creative and do our own versions of Folk Art.
We use antique materials to create them, like antique posts, turnings, bed posts, pieces from furniture, etc. Jeff sometimes adds carving to them ,then we make bases and podiums to put them on. I use real wool for their hair, beards,etc. I make hats from canvas, and hand-paint them.
I am also a rug hooker. But, I like to make 3-d sculptures out of the rug hooking. I start with drawing a pattern of what I want to make, like Uncle Sam holding a flag and riding a pig ,or a life-d Indian. We also incorporate antiques into them like the bases they are mounted on, or an antique bow and arrow for the Indian sculptures. They are really fun pieces that no one else is making, and a real statement and conversation piece for our customers.
Where can people see your work in person?
We have many customers who have become close friends over the years, and many who have furnished their entire homes with our work. We have a good bit of hard-core collectors, some with 100’s of pieces of our work. This is very humbling, as is the work we do for Colonial Williamsburg. We make and paint all the signs sold at all their locations and on their website, as well as boxes,chests, and furniture. We love that our work is carried, sold, and on permanent display at the top Historic Village and Museum in the Country. We have come a long way from doing street festivals and High school Craft shows.
We have designed things for the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and sold through them also, and have been sold through several other Museums as well. We have exhibited for years at all the top shows in the country, like The Wilton Historical Show in Wilton,CT., to the Winterthur Musuem show in Delaware. We show at the Designer Craftsmen Shows of Philadelphia and Boston, and have gone as far west as Cincinnati ,Ohio, and and as far south as Atlanta, Georgia. We used to do 20+ shows a year all over the place. Now we only do 3-4 shows a year, including the Folk Fest in Atlanta, and have a few Open House’s here at our Showroom. We sell off the internet on our website, and through Colonial Williamsburg.
Hidden Treasures Originals by Kathy Graybill
Kathy Graybill on Liberatchik