by Len Lear
There are lots of great artists in the Local’s coverage area, but Kathryn Pannepacker, a brilliant textile/visual artist since 1994 (now in Germantown), is so much more than an artist. One can accurately say that she actually uses her art to relieve the suffering of those who desperately need such profound help.
Kathryn, 50-ish, started The Healing Blanket Project a few years ago. She created many small textiles to memorialize victims of gun violence in Philadelphia and represent the neighborhoods impacted. Installed outside at locations and intersections where violence had taken place, each textile featured help and support information.
A piece of the healing blanket was mailed to each victim’s family along with support resources. Kathryn also held four outdoor pop-up workshops and participated in various vigils and rallies with Operation Save Our City. The goal of this effort was “to comfort and aid communities in their healing journey toward a purpose-driven life for peace.”
Initially, the idea came to Kathryn when she had a blanket wrapped around her that her mother had knit, when she was healing from hip surgery. “Anyone who knows me personally knows my challenges,” she explained last week, “but suffice to say that everyone has a story and is healing from something.
“Tenacity and patience and care and courage are some of what it takes to get through challenges, whether it’s physical, emotional, etc., disease, grief, sorrow, loss of a loved one, be it from suicide, homicide, domestic violence, addiction, homelessness, depression, joblessness, a break-up. Life can be intense; we all know this.
“It helps when one has a sense of purpose and belonging, but sometimes when grief is so deep or the issue is so overwhelming, all one wants to do is curl up, cover your head and hide out and let the world go by. The purpose and vision/idea of this project is to be that of comfort and hope, a soothing presence of love and kindness in time’s journey of healing.”
Kathryn weaves little pieces each day as a sort of studio vigil. She also has workshops here and there with communities, families, etc., and she stitches together the hundreds of small weavings to create large “blankets” for installations. Two years ago one such installation/event was “The Memorial” at the BKG Funeral Home in North Philadelphia.
Kathryn partnered with Operation Save Our City, thanks to a Leeway Foundation Art & Change Grant. “We invited anyone and everyone impacted by homicide/gun violence,” she explained. The Healing Blanket was draped over one coffin, and a second coffin was filled with bullet casings. The community and families came to this somber event, brought photos of their loved ones and wrote messages on tags that they attached to the “blanket.”
In another important part of this project, Kathryn ties a piece of yarn around the grief-stricken person’s wrist and speaks the following blessing: “When you find sorrow in your heart, may faith, hope and love comfort you. When you are afraid or overwhelmed, may you find courage and support. Let this string I tie on your wrist remind you of the precious dear one you are, and let your life be a blessing with your resolve for peace.”
Currently Kathryn thinks a lot about the impact the opioid epidemic is having on individuals, families and communities. In 2017, in Philadelphia alone, 1217 people died from an overdose. “I have started a new ‘blanket’ and am weaving many small pieces each day in my studio, as a vigil for all dear hearts,” said Kathryn.
“I am also currently co-leading a ’sanctuary studio’ at the Kensington Storefront called Tuesday Tea & Textiles with Lisa Kelley. This is in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, etc. Those in active addiction come to the Storefront … We believe that art-making is a form of harm reduction … the sense of belonging and purpose/creating is so critical in life.”
Kathryn also makes and leaves textile “shags” on chain link fences around the city, often on abandoned lots in neglected neighborhoods. For example, she created a giant G-clef symbol as an homage to the Cunningham piano factory in Germantown.
For five-and-a-half years Kathryn and her wife, Diane Dunning, were site managers for Grumblethorpe, the 18th century summer home of the Wister family in Germantown. They left at the end of last summer and now live in Germantown at the Tulpehocken Co-op, where Kathryn also has her studio and office.
For more information about Kathryn, her work and her workshops, visit www.kpannepacker.com.