Artist Kathryn Shriver talks art, leaving Savannah GA for Pittsburgh
Under normal circumstances, I would write this article to tell the people of Savannah to expect great things in the years to come from Kathryn Shriver.
The fiber artist, who works primarily with beads but also with drawing and painting, as well as found and purchased objects, does interesting and highly artisanal work.
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Each assembly feels familiar without being obvious, referencing his personal heritage, domestic life and the American dream. Although she only moved to our town in October of last year, she has befriended local luminaries like Sharon Norwood and the folks at Sulfur Studios, where she has a studio. And she has a stable income thanks to a grant from the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork Project.
Yes, under normal circumstances, I would love what Shriver seems destined to add to our community in the years to come. Trouble is, she’s getting ready to move to Pittsburgh.
“The reason Savannah just doesn’t feel like it’s really working is because there’s no way to rent a place right now, not just affordably, but not at all,” she said. “See things for $1,500 that are 350 square feet that are horrible? I’m 30 and I live in an apartment where I can’t bring anyone in because it’s just my bed. It’s frustrating.
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“There are about three things available and they are all either terrible or way off budget,” she added.
I’ve long wondered why Savannah was losing her artistry, given the constant influx of students and artistically-minded outsiders like Shriver. In a recent article I wrote about Michael Mahaffey, another gifted designer who is also preparing to move, he and fellow local artist Eoley Mulally complained about the lack of space to show the work. Add the cost of apartment living to the list of reasons why we can’t have beautiful things that are both unhappy and depressing.
In Shriver’s case, this is particularly daunting given his unique talent and the contemporary nature of his practice.
Growing up, she was exposed to craftsmanship through her grandfather, a semi-retired builder, and her grandmother, who specialized in creating interior design items like curtains and wallpaper. The couple, who grew up in poverty, had developed a way of working that used cheaper and more readily available items in ways that transformed them, making them appear as high-end creations.
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“I called it… working-class promiscuity of materials,” Shriver explained. “It doesn’t matter what something is actually used for, whether it serves the purpose, the aesthetic purpose, or the functional purpose, you use it. And that creates a lot of ingenuity and a lot of creativity in the face of financial or access restrictions.
“I think a lot of my artistic practice really stems from that. I always had to take what was at hand. If you can make jewelry like a napkin holder, you do.
Reflecting on his work, it’s hard not to think about how many of us have learned new skills during the pandemic. Untrained, like most of us were, we turned to Pinterest and YouTube to learn how to build garden boxes, bake bread, or re-tile our bathrooms. Clearly, Shriver has a more dexterous hand than most of us, but his work undeniably elicits that ‘understanding’ aesthetic that’s both appealing to look at and indicative of the period of history we live in. .
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Take, for example, its recent foray into jewelry making.
“Why do you wear jewelry in times of a pandemic? She asked rhetorically. “And why do people buy jewelry?
“[I didn’t] know when and where I was going to wear [a necklace she’d made], so I hung it above my painting. And that act got me thinking, reminded me of coming home after a night out [of] go out before the pandemic, take your earrings off and put them on the bathroom counter and they’re there for a little while. It’s very domestic, but it’s also very whimsical. It is also very creative and artistic.
Half an hour into our conversation, brimming with excitement about the potential of what his work might become in the future, a wave of sadness washed over me as I recalled that my meeting with Shriver at that time was probably the last time I would see her. Her best friend from undergrad school had recently bought a house and, as mentioned above, she is soon destined to leave for Pittsburgh to be close to him. It made me wonder once again how much of the artistic talent our city attracts we can actually keep.
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“I want to say definitively that the people I met in Savannah treated me amazingly and I felt incredibly accepted from the moment I landed,” she said.
“It just doesn’t work.”
Find Kathryn Shriver on Instagram at @kathrynshriver. You can find out more about her and her work on her website, kathrynshriver.com.
Art off the Air is a complement to the radio show “Art on the Air” hosted by Rob Hessler and Gretchen Hilmers. The column can also be found at savannahnow.com/entertainment.
The show airs Wednesdays from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah and on WRUU.org.