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Freedom equals happiness for artist Katherine Pippin Pauley
By Kathleen Ostrander

When Katherine Pippin Pauley was teaching, her creativity was channeled into lessons and motivating her charges. But she still found time to make costumes for theater groups and for the Springfield Muni Opera.

The costume work evolved into a business called True Glitz, which transformed men's coats into fashionable women's coats. Meanwhile, she had retired from teaching and was working as a librarian. It's only the last couple of years that she's been able to devote all of her energies to art.

Devoting all of her energies is perhaps downplaying her enthusiasm a bit. It's like comparing someone with his or her toe in the bathtub water to someone who just went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, a dozen times, during a rainstorm, while shouting nursery rhymes at the top of their lungs.

Her studio explodes with color and fun. It assaults the senses. It's an amazing overload of whimsy and creativity.

"This is freedom," Pauley said gesturing around her studio. "I'm my own boss. I can come up here and be happy."

A juried artist with the Prairie Art Alliance, Pauley's works include cards, altered books and game boards, quotation boxes, polymer clay creations and two- and three-dimensional pieces.

Ideas come to her like bright bits of confetti or flitting butterflies.

A mannequin's head is halved and a scene is put inside. A chessboard becomes an "Alice in Wonderland" piece.

"My favorite thing is buying something at a flea market or rummage sale and then just coming up with an idea.

"I'm truly a green artist, because I recycle everything. Everything can be made into a piece of art, but some of the things are just waiting for the right inspiration or another piece to bring everything together," Pauley said.

Some inspiration just comes out and has to be transformed into an art piece, such as the "Ear Worm."

"You know those songs you get in your head and you can't get them out?" The "Ear Worm" piece illustrates what happens when a song like "Pop Goes the Weasel" runs around in your head.

Pieces are collaged, layered and decoupaged to give them depth and animation. Her "Alice in Wonderland" polymer figures look lifelike and ready to talk.

Since she just started displaying her pieces, she revels in the feedback.

"I love to be standing there watching someone and they just throw their head back and laugh. Or they point out a detail they didn't see before. It makes me happy when someone appreciates the piece, and then I feel great when they want it," she said.

Pauley said she is fond of her collage pieces because that art form is so forgiving.

"If you make a mistake, you can just cover it up and recover quite nicely," she said.

All around her studio are bits and pieces of things she has purchased at yard and rummage sales just waiting for the right inspiration. The books she has purchased at yard sales will be transformed into altered books. Altered books are covered in a decoupage medium, and characters, quotes or other scenes may be added.

They also could become family albums or parts of a greeting card. Her line of cards is where her wicked sense of humor really comes out. She invents relatives and features them on her cards. Just reading the verses conjures up a visual:

"Sarabeth misread the course description. She thought it said 'painting nude' not "painting nudes."

"Pearl was a good daughter. She took her parents out of the asylum for excursions to Atlantic City every year."

"Thomas knew that if his sister sang in the wrong key one more time, he'd have to shoot her."

The family album cards, she said, are ways for her to get her little snarks out and explore the foibles of the world.

"Sometimes I come up with a quote and then find a picture, and sometimes I have the quote and look for a picture," she said.

Sales of the family album cards support her creativity habit, Pauley said.

She's looking at doing some Route 66 pieces, and she may do more creations involving discarded musical instruments.

"I really love the three ladies made out of clarinets I've done," she said.

Although Pauley is originally a New Yorker, she transforms the word "Springfield" into art with pieces of maps, and they also become memory pieces for people who move away.

For Pauley, the world is art, and she's going to keep embracing it and sharing until she runs out of ideas. And that's not likely to happen.

Story published Friday, September 3, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 5 )

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