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Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

One Easter in Altheimer

I can remember my black patent leather shoes with silver buckles.
The kitchen walls are Easter egg blue.

My mom peels three boiled eggs and drops them into the shallow bowl. They slide around the edge before settling down.

Bright gold characters pasted on thin red paper.
I bite into a stalk of green onion. The sting is a simple joy.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee


Notes: Read “A Simple Heart” by Flaubert at the suggestion of Sina Najaji, editor of Cabinet magazine (this was in 2007). Particularly drawn to the description of furniture and decoration. The spinster in the story mourns for her dead bird by stuffing him and placing him in her room.

My Aunt Reis was never married. She lived in a converted garage attached to my family’s home in Surabaya.

She rolls onto her stomach and spreads her arms out to each side of the bed, palms down against the cool white sheets. She grips the sides of the mattress and squeezes her whole body down into the bed. Her fingertips are sore from sewing. She presses her face further down; the mattress smells hair.

Aunt Reis visited our family once when I was little. Opa told us to call her Koko, aunt.

Koko looked up at the fruitless trees surrounding her brother’s American home. She stared, horrified, at a yellowish hull clinging to the trunk of the giant pine tree. “Is sah cicada shell,” her little grandniece said as she plucked it off the bark and tucked it into her skirt pocket.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Some Company

This is an excerpt from my thesis These Islands.

To make my own plastic eyes, like the ones on teddy bears, I need to cut circles onto black paper. I don’t need a stencil.
I’ll drip hot glue over the flat black shapes completely covering them.
Some of the drips will look like tears. Like the dog or rabbit or bear is crying.

Inside the room with the sympathetic chorus of plastic eyes, The Lamb and Rex, the German shepherd balance on their good legs.

I am called away from the room with the eyes, down a hallway. I am following the sound of a sick man calling  for his wife, using her real, true name.

Jun 1 / Kimberly Kwee

Patsy Cline Greatest Hits

This album was really important to me the spring I was working on my MFA show. I would sew all day in the living room and at night, I would smoke out of an emerald green hookah we named “The Wizard.” One night I was listening to the record and petting my cat Sycamore. I felt that she was a very old spirit. I said to my boyfriend, “She is more than a cat.” She was so beautiful to me. Christopher said he could see my joy and contentment and it made him feel even more miserable. I listened to this album a lot over the summer after he left me, and of course, it reminds me of that night.

My favorite track is “She’s Got You.” I really love how each song title is done in a different font. They would be really cool signs or embroidered on sheets of fabric.

patsy cline greatest hits

May 31 / Kimberly Kwee

Real Bad Songs

I’m playing with recording some quick renditions of some of the most gawd-awful songs I have ever heard. I played around with the same idea about six or seven years ago by recording myself singing excerpts from Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance” in a weird Icelandic robot-voice. I just think these songs are so funny. Who does Don Henley believe he is kidding? I know what “dance, dance” really means. I also made a video and recorded a cover of Garth Brook’s “Papa Luv’d Mama,” which is horrifically tragic, but is produced like its a funny little limerick. “I knew a truck driver from Dover, who fucking killed the mother of his children by driving his diesel into their house…he could have killed his whole family, but thankfully, one of his kids lived to tell the tale.” I slowed it down and sang it like a lullaby. Anyway, I recently recorded just the chorus of “B.O.B” by Outkast (this is actually a great song), so I got interested in singing again. Tonight, I found something I started working on about two years ago. I was apparently trying to make something interesting out of  Dan Seal’s “I Wanna Bop With You Baby.” I think Dan and Don were barking up the very same tree. Here’s the lyrics I found:

I feel scared

about the weight of the ice


I am sure

that it couldbe my death.

I wanna bop witchu babee

all night long

I wanna bee-bop witchu babee

til the break of dawn

I wanna bop the night away

I wanna bop the night away

so can we bop?

so can we bop?

I feel the weight of the ice

and I go back to bed

so can we bop?

so can we bop?

I was thinking it would be a jazzy kind of number. The stuff about the ice came from Karin Hodgin Jones’ conversations with me about Finland. When I figure out how to add the recordings to this post, this will be much more fun to read.

May 31 / Kimberly Kwee

Notes on Going Home

When I was in grad school, I would try to drive home for a visit just before the final push at the end of each semester. I could never truly relax and enjoy my family’s company. It felt like I never sat down. As soon as I hit my parent’s house, I kept roaming around looking for something to take back to my studio or to have in my apartment. My little brother said I was “shopping.” I took tubes of toothpaste and cans of soup, some of it I had “shopped” for as my brother said, some of it was pushed on me by one of my parents. I think a lot of people must have had that experience, although, probably as when they were in college. What was different for me, I think, was that I yearned to return with some object that would remind me of being from a place other than Champaign, Illinois. I especially hoped for something I could use in my art that would tell everyone there who I really was. One time, I brought back four garbage bags of pine needles from my Oma’s house. They sat on the floor of my studio for months. I stared at them, not trying to change or transform them in any way. They started attracting creepy-crawly things into my studio, forcing me to deal with them. These periods after returning from home were very hard for me. I was searching for something to cement myself down to before final critiques began. I knew we were assessed, generally, in only one category: productivity. The only question on the exam, so to speak was this: What had you made in four months and, most importantly, why should anyone care? I was never very satisfied with how I tried to answer this question. I thought about what I was doing in grad school as personal transformation. I thought about everything I tried to make and do and “finding myself” and I tried on a lot of different hats. At least, I thought I did at the time. I still thought making things was about making new things and destroying old things. Myself included, of course, as the primary material. I did not know that it could just be one thing, then the next thing, and then something else.

I want to return to the visits home to see my parents. I can see my parents frozen in time occupying two spaces. The diorama I have created in my mind features my mother lying down in her bedroom. She is in corpse pose with her feet splayed out to the sides. She never covers up with the thin blue bedspread, but rather, piles pillows up over her body. My father is always lying on his side on the floor in the living room with his head propped up on his fist. They both have a television on, but are mostly sleeping. I drew my father once in that pose. I always thought to myself, “I should draw my parents,” whenever I visited them, but could never manage it. The thought terrified me.

Oct 12 / Kimberly Kwee

Scary Monsters

Delivering three drawings to Jonesboro tomorrow. Excited about the way I am mounting works on paper. Looks good and allows me to keep making changes. That keeps me from getting depressed. I hate putting drawings under glass. I recognize the need to protect the drawings when they are exhibited. I just like the idea of not ever being finished with the paper more right now. So, this drawing is mounted to a board that I built up to about 3 inches on the back. I like the way it makes the drawing separate from the wall, like a canvas.


Oct 12 / Kimberly Kwee

Unfinished Sewing Project in Failures

10/31 UPDATE***The Nashville leg of the exhibition will be at Belmont University. The exhibitions I have seen on their site look really interestings. This won’t be until Fall 2014, so all work is going to come back home first. I have some images to post from the opening at Kresge Gallery. A link to the PDF catalog coming soon.

20131031-070645.jpgI love this picture! All the guys have the same posture and pose.


It has taken me weeks to bring myself to publish this post about the first installation of my Unfinished Sewing Project. I fell into a black hole of uncertainty and self-doubt in presenting this project, although I think it is the best thing I’ve probably ever done. It’s very different from work I’ve shared with an audience in the past and it’s new for me. Even with a lot of built-in emotional safety nets (the fact that I collaborated with friends and family, the theme of the exhibition, encouragement from everyone I talked to about the project, etc.) I still felt PANIC. This has all mellowed out now because I think the show looks great and the project looks great in it. That’s just the whole truth – and why it’s taken me awhile to get these images up. I’m so glad Mark came with to install because the photos I took were embarrassing. It was a little dark since the gallery was closed, so please excuse the fuzzy.









The spiky pillow was created by Karin Hodgin Jones. She received a kit with the instructions you see pinned to the pillow. Helen Jeu left those instruction in a baggie with the fabric Karin used to make the spikes and other details. I think Karin enjoyed getting this package of materials with ambiguous instructions. I think that joy is an important part of this project. I spoke about the difficulty I felt in the first 2-3 years after graduate school in the quick artist talk at the opening. I talked about how difficult it is to find a direction and to make work without the eyes and voices of other artists around me. I think this kind of collaboration is a viable strategy for generating work in those slow and paralyzed periods.

My original plan was to arrange the project as a mini-show inside a bigger show. I saw my role as a curator of this 12′ x 10′ space, and lucky for me, the actual curators of the show let me operate in that way. Both the curator and gallery director were very supportive. When I got into the gallery, I decided to use the wall as a drawing space. I had all these small fabric pieces I had made (really just small quilted collages), about 600 yo-yo circles, and two pieces that sort of stood on their own as individual works (the necklace Intentions of an Anonymous Quilter by Kristi Rae Wilson and the pillow by Karin). And a strange little bear. And a stack of cut fabric for visitors to make more yo-yos. Again, PANIC. I just had to start putting things together in a way that made sense to me and for the space. I don’t know if I would always want to present the project in this way, but it looked beautiful in this particular space because of the location of the entrance (to the right) and the height of the ceilings. When the show goes to Nashville, I think a more traditional presentation might make more sense.

The gallery director was great in letting me label the work on the wall in a very specific way. I was able to acknowledge everyone who contributed to the project as well as their specific contributions. Let me go ahead and send out a collective shout-out here, too.

From left to right in the wide shot of the wall:
Karin Hodgin Jones

I did the draped fabric things and I’ll explain those in a minute…

Intentions of an Anonymous Quilter (necklace)
Kristi Rae Wilson

I did the bear. Best thing ever…

The yo-yos! Terry Barnes, my lovely mother-in-law and the Tuccelli crew made about 200 of those things! Martha Webber, dear friend, did her fair share and added some of her own fabric from unfinished projects. I labeled the yo-yos with her handwritten notes which she included in the package she sent back to me. My fantastic work study student, Lauren Tidwell, brought me a grocery bag of them, like, two days after she got the fabric. I made SOME, but honestly, I had planned on finishing up the scraps that came back and not much came back! It was amazing. I had no idea I would get some many back from everyone. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am well loved and supported. Finally, I was happy to pin up the teeny-tiny yo-yos that were actually made by Helen Jeu. Those are the ones I am pinning up last in a couple of the pics.

Back to those draped things. I have several incomplete garment patterns in the materials from Helen Jeu. The blue and pink fabric is part of a vest. I found the two front sides, but no back. They were still pinned to the freezer paper pattern and the note, “Cut 2 from quilted patchwork” was attached. I followed those instructions literally instead of trying to cut a back and make a wearable garment. Same thing for the shirt back. It occurs to me now that I could have tried to make them both into one garment, but I didn’t feel like that was right somehow. It did feel right to use them as collage surfaces.

I didn’t end up installing all of the smaller quilted collages I made in the course of the month I spent piecing things together that were specifically for the show. They didn’t have any instructions with them, so they seemed too different from everything else. I think they will make more sense to me later. I imagine they will end up becoming part of one thing, like a larger quilt or drawing.

I also didn’t end up installing Keeley Murray’s lovely embroidered apron. When I went back to my notes for From My Home to Yours, I realized I had composed her kit from my own unfinished materials and not Helen Jeu’s materials. So, I decided to save that piece for a time when I could showcase From My Home to Yours as separate project. And, I use the apron everyday. I would stain myself.

The show at Kresge will be up through the rest of October. It travels to a commercial gallery in Nashville in November. I’ll write more after that leg is complete. I am learning a lot from working in this way and I am really enjoying it. Thank you for reading.

Aug 14 / Kimberly Kwee

Tournament of Roses “War Queens”

From the 1946 Tournament of the Roses Pictorial:
Throughout the war many organizations “froze” titles, but not the Tournament of the RosesAssociation. Each December preceding the annual Tournament of Roses paraded ate it went through the process of electing a Queen…as a reminder to the world that the famous parade would one day be renewed. First of the war-time queens was Dolores Jean Brubach. she presided over a mythical parade on January 1, 1942. In 1943 the successful candidate was Mildred Miller. Naomi Riordan topped the loveliness of a beautiful group of competitors to gain the crown in 1944. Last of the “war queens” was pretty Mary Rutte.

I’ve drawn the pictures of the war queens for several years. Last summer I made a monotype screen print of one of those drawings and this past spring I finished a couple collage and mixed media drawings based on those photographs.





Aug 12 / Kimberly Kwee

UPDATE Unfinished Sewing

I’m about a month out from showing Unfinished Sewing at Kresge Gallery (Lyons College), so I wanted to make a post documenting my progress. The teacher in me wants to mention that this is really helpful to studio practice. I take pictures while I’m working, not just of the thing I’m making, but also of what is happening around the room. It’s a lesson I’ve been slow to learn it. I can’t say I realized it on my own. During a particularly dry spell my second year of grad school, one of favorite professors, Barbara Kendrick, was visiting my studio. As I bullshitted nervously about what I had intended to do, she calmly looked around my studio, and, without a hint of scolding or condescension, suggested, “You should really think about photographing the things in this room.” She meant that the little things I was messing around with when I didn’t know what to do with the “real” work was actually pretty interesting. That’s a very funny thing that happens in a studio, when one is pacing like a caged animal and has a need to make things.
So, I thought it might be fun to post some of those images from January 2006 before posting the new studio images. Thanks, again, Barbara.

Sewing batik to a lampshade for These Islands

Stuffed animal head turned inside out over resin bird figurine, painted with rubber

Embroidered figure that became my character Cloud

The full text, from a birthday card, “Hope you safe and sound with all my love, Oma”



Nest of pine needles displayed on shelves, later became part of All she wants to do is dance. Many of these things that were newborn little baby ideas from that studio are still populating my current studio and my drawings.
Okay, here’s some day one pics:





Day one started with a big clean-up. Every new project starts with cleaning and organizing my studio. Organizing is important because too little makes me frustrated when I can’t find something or there’s no clean space to work, but too much kind of stifles the way I sometimes put things together because they end of next to each other. So, I tend to “file” vertically, making little piles everywhere.
With this project, some of the “filing” was done for me by Helen Jeu. She had already created lots of small baggies of fabric scraps that she must have thought went together. Maybe each one was supposed to be a quilt square. I started, though, with a stack of pattern pieces that were too big for a baggie. There were two sides of a vest or robe pinned to a pattern she had drawn herself on freezer paper. It said’ “Cut 2 from Quilted Patchwork.” The other pieces of the pattern were either lost or were never drawn. I weighed trying to complete it with either one I made up, or a store-bought pattern. In the end, I decided to take it as it was and work with it like any other found image in a collage. I cut two pieces from the pattern and quilted it and patched it.
Boardwalk Empire fueled working through the first baggie. After I stitched together the first baggie, I decided to sew a little swatch of the fabric to a card and label it “Bag 1.” Then, I found where I had started cutting triangular wedges out of the fabric about a year ago and, lo and behold, there was another card inside with a swatch and a label, “Bag 1.” One of the false starts I had in completing this work. I’m very organized…and easily distracted.