Kathryn Coon Harper was one of the founding Board Members who conceptualized the Janice Mason Art Museum twenty years ago. In honor of the museum's anniversary, Harper's 50-year career is highlighted in a retrospective exhibit, As It Was -- As It Is. Kathryn Coon Harper visits Sounds Good to discuss the exhibit and her full circle from founding member to featured artist.
As It Was -- As It Is traverses fifty years of paintings and drawings completed by Kathryn Coon Harper throughout different stages of her career. The collection encompasses a diverse range of style and medium, emphasizing the details in simplicity while calling attention to a constant state of change within society, the economy, and the landscape. Beginning her career in the turbulent 1960s, Harper considers that time period to be an integral source of inspiration. "There was a lot going on [in the 60s] with the women's rights movement and the environmental movement," Harper says. "A lot of that was responded to in my work at the time." She cites the Equal Rights Amendment, Environmental Protection Agency, and Vietnam War as exemplary events affecting self-definition, altering cultural attitudes and challenging religious views.
Raised in Louisiana (Harper obtained her masters degree and was an instructor at Louisiana State University), Harper's themes often center around traditionally rural imagery of the mid-South and Southern regions. After moving to Kentucky in the late 1970s, Harper says, "I really did kind of go more towards depicting the landscape. I was really taken by the Kentucky landscape, the architecture of the barn and the agrarian buildings were just so geometric on the landscape, with these large fields of color. That's what I really started focusing on when I first came [to Kentucky], and I'm still intrigued by the landscape that Kentucky offers."
Harper's most recent paintings focus on visual and economic transitions across the local area's farming landscape. Barns and stables, she mentions, "become almost an iconology for [those changes] as we see barns changing in their purpose and their use." One particular drawing, done with pen and ink, depicts a large stable originally meant to house horses and mules. The stable now houses a large tractor that can barely fit into the barn. Harper also uses color and light to depict the agricultural shift into canola farming. The literal change of color on the local landscape reflects an adjustment from the sustainable family farms of the past to modern large-scale agricultural operations that are shaped by a global supply and demand economy. The changes highlighted in Harper's works immortalize imagery, scenery, and traditions often left to be dismantled or forgotten as society and technology continue to rapidly shift.
This exhibit is in honor of the Janice Mason Art Museum's 20th anniversary. As a founding Board Member, Harper says that this retrospective exhibition brings her journey as a Trigg County artist full circle. "Art," says Harper, "has been the constant thread throughout my life." And while "it's a challenge to keep it invigorated, to keep meeting new challenges, and working through frustrations that you frequently encounter in any creative endeavor," Harper uses an ever-morphing landscape and society, paired with "en plein air" compositional techniques, to keep her art both fresh and authentic.
As It Was -- As It Is will be on display at the Janice Mason Art Museum in Cadiz, KY through November 24th. There will be a public reception held on Saturday, November 10th, from 5-7 pm CST, featuring live original music by Wayne Harper. Normal gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sundays from 1 pm to 4 pm. For more information on the Janice Mason Art Museum or Kathryn Coon Harper, visit the Janice Mason Museum's website.