by Carole Verona
Kathryn Pannepacker, a textile/visual artist, has lived and studied as far away as Hachioji, Japan, and Aubusson, France, but she found the inspiration for “Bamboo Bird Song,” her current exhibit, right in her own back yard. For the past three years, Kathryn, 50, and Diane Dunning, her wife, have been site managers at Grumblethorpe, the 18th century summer home of the Wister family in Germantown.
“When you sit on the front step of Grumblethorpe,” said Kathryn, “you’re in the middle of life, with people, businesses, organizations and all kinds of activity around you. When you walk out the back door, you step into a two-acre garden with ginkgo, crabapple and catalpa trees, flowers, herbs and bamboo … the beauty of it all!
“It’s a place of tranquility and peacefulness. I thought it would be interesting to take my pipe looms outside where there’s a beautiful bamboo growth and do a series inspired by the orchestra of birds I hear every morning and evening. The magic of it all is that you hear this explosion of sound, but you can’t see the little birds hidden in the bamboo.”
Kathryn explained that her background of study is in traditional, flat-weave, pictorial tapestry where there are a lot of rules, such as “cover the warp, tighten and clean the edges, and make sure the surface is smooth.” For this exhibit, she wanted to explore, revisit and capture the Japanese concept of “ma,” which is the quiet space, pause, or interval where you can rest your eye. “Many months ago when I was approached to do this exhibit, I thought I’d love to stretch the parameters of my work, quit the limitations, have fun and explore,” she said.
“In this exhibit, you’ll see that I’m weaving, wrapping and tying things up. The material in the show includes yarns, wools, cottons, linens, sisal, sticks and bamboo. I’m incorporating stones and other objects that are on the Grumblethorpe property. It’s a way of pulling out all the stops. I’m even incorporating twitterings of black and beige to represent the sparrows that hide out in the bamboo.” Other splashes of color reflect the sky peeping through the tops of the bamboo. “All of the pieces were done in late winter, spring and early summer so that you can see the natural aging and wintering that happens over time to the bamboo and leaves.”
In addition to weaving, Kathryn has designed and painted several murals through the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia. “Wall of Rug,” one of her murals, looks like carpets from all around the world. It can be seen at Girard and Belmont avenues in Philadelphia. A second mural based on the same theme is located at Broad and Lehigh. Last summer, she completed another mural project (on Diamond Street between 25th and 26th) called “Nana Blankets,” paintings that resemble the crocheted or knitted blankets that our grandmothers used to make. “Finding Home,” a mural designed to help break down the stigma around homelessness, can be seen at 13th and Ludlow streets.
Community outreach and sharing are important to Kathryn. She conducts workshops at homeless shelters and at methadone clinics. Every Wednesday for the past 14 years, she has facilitated an art studio for senior citizens at the Masonic Village in Lafayette Hill. She also conducts tapestry workshops on a regular basis at Grumblethorpe for people in transition and for adults with schizophrenia who come to be on the grounds where they can experience the peacefulness of nature.
Kathryn grew up in Eastern Montgomery County and attended Cheltenham High School. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Art from Penn State University in 1987.
Between 1988 and 1991, she apprenticed with third-generation French tapestry weaver, Jean Pierre Larochette, and his partner, Yael Lurie, a painter and designer for tapestry, in Berkeley, California. In 1992 she traveled to Aubusson, France, where she studied tapestry weaving, design, and painting at Ecole Nationale des Arts et Technique de la Tapisserie, The following year, she completed a six month artist-in-residency fellowship for the TAMA LIFE 21 project in Hachioji City, Tokyo.
The “Bamboo Bird Song” exhibit is currently at the Allens Lane Art Center’s Satellite Samuel Lieberman Gallery at Settlement Music School, 6128 Germantown Ave., until June 19. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public.