Katherine Westphal, creator of unusual textile art, dies at 99

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Katherine Westphal, an infectiously enthusiastic textile artist whose innovative collage-like designs helped establish her as a leader of the wearable art movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970, died March 13 at her home in Berkeley, California. She was 99 years old. .

Her death was announced by Rhonda Brown and Tom Grotta, her gallery representatives.

Ms. Westphal’s love for artistic creation began during a solitary upbringing and never waned.

“I want to become a link in this long line of human activity – creating fabric patterns on any available surface,” she said, quoted by writer and designer JoAnn C. Stabb in her book “Fiber Arts Pioneers: Pushing the Pliable Avion” (2015).

Ms Westphal’s canvases – which included quilts, kimonos, dresses, and baskets – reflected her life and travels around the world, and were notable for her pioneering use of thermal dyeing processes to transfer photocopied images to fabrics. . His living works are in many permanent museum collections, including those of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Her original “Hawaiian Kitsch” synthetic velvet quilt features thermal transfer printed images of her wearing a collar and appearing to float above a pyramid. Another quilt, “Tutankhamun’s New Treasures,” features repeated photos of camels and one of her with a group on a trip to Egypt. In “Giverny II”, she used the technique of thermal transfer to print several floral images on handmade paper, then pieced them together and machine-sewn into a garment in the shape of a kimono.

“She liked the forms of clothing, especially kimonos, which were good for manipulating two-dimensional images,” Lauren Whitley, senior curator in the Department of Textile and Fashion Arts at the National Gallery, said at a telephone interview. “She intended to wear them, but found that some people just hung them on their walls.”

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

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 has influenced much of her work as well.”

“She was still laughing softly – almost laughing – as she described everything 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, aluminum foil and bread bags in her basketry. Mr. Rossbach, a major influence on contemporary textile arts, died in 2002. No member of his immediate family survives.

“Their work has shown excitement and playfulness,” Ezra Shales, professor of art history at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, said in a telephone interview. “They could fuse images of mass culture and patterns from ancient textiles with enthusiasm, without becoming didactic or clumsy.”

Ms. Westphal was born on January 2, 1919 in Los Angeles. Her father, Leo, was a manager of a grocery chain and her mother, former Emma Kaker, was a housewife.

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

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

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

While in college, she said, she regularly roller skated three miles from home to Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. And without many friends or artistic ties to her family, she wanted to leave the house.

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

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

“On my jacket I had an enamel pin that I had made,” she said in “Ties That Bind,” “and Diego Rivera was very fascinated by this little pin. I wouldn’t give it to her because it was my most precious possession, the best glazed thing I have ever done.

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

While in Davis, she discovered a new copier, which she filled with coins while experimenting with a new art form.

“It was the perfect medium, allowing him to quickly harness his magpie instincts,” the Hyperallergic art website wrote after his 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 a 2001 exhibition of small altar-shaped structures that she made out of a jumble of materials, she was asked why in “Kong’s Castle” she had combined a small plastic gorilla on a floor. script with two golden cockroaches climbing up a tower into a paper towel tube.

True to the freewheeling approach that has characterized her career, she said there was no plan.

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


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