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Arts & Culture

Questions for Katie Pell

Photo: Janet Sweeney, License: N/A

Janet Sweeney

Gary Sweeney and Katie Pell ride the biggest wave they could find in SA



Peter Doig, 100 Years Ago (Carrera), 2001

Click Here to View Katie Pell's Work

Katie Pell is a multi-talented artist, professor, and bundle of energy who lives and works in Southtown. I was first drawn to her because she looks like a California surfer girl. Her latest project was a six-year collaboration with her husband, master woodworker Peter Zubiate, in which Peter completely rebuilt the interior of a vintage Airstream trailer with wood, after which Katie covered every square inch with fantasy-nature scenes, drawn with a woodburning tool. I was eager to interview her because she’s smart, animated, and because I never know what’s going to come out of her mouth.

What was your childhood like in Delaware?

I grew up with British parents in a real European expat community — French, Germans, Hungarians, Poles — and I think a bit of their leftover trauma lingered. My father was orphaned in World War II. My parents were older when they had three children, and I wanted so much to be an American. I was a misfit, and alone a lot — all pretty standard artist stuff: Sadness,but with a deep love of nature, and later on, a deep understanding of my parents’ trauma. I went to a really fancy prep school with old money East Coast kids — they pretended they had somehow accomplished something by being born rich. That’s where I got the idea I could go to the Rhode Island School of Design instead of the University of Delaware.

If you could own any piece of art, what would it be?

I can’t imagine what it would be — I think a James Ensor painting, Christ Entering Brussels, the big version. Oh, I know! The Peter Doig painting with Duane Allman in a canoe. Those paintings he does in Trinidad make me cry — and Duane Allman to boot!
Come on!

You were in Seattle in the heyday of grunge music and art glass. Tell me about it.

Seattle was so much fun, but I took all of the obvious risks and none of the real ones. I worked for a wonderful glass artist, Ginny Ruffner, and met incredibly great people. There were lots of people my age making tons of money, but it gave me unrealistic expectations of how it goes for young people. I lived down the street from Soundgarden, and met tons of other bands. Eventually, the rain sucked, my job sucked, and everybody thinking where they lived made them cool sucked, so I went to Colorado, where I met the love of my life! The unbelievably beautiful, brave, and talented Peter Zubiate.

You have a great sense of humor, but I’ve never seen you laugh hysterically. What cracksyou up?

I wish I were silly — I’ve never had a carefree moment in my life. I laugh at wordplay, situational absurdity…I would like to be a giggler and laugh at fart jokes, but I think they’re stupid.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you give your students?

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