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An Artist’s Spotlight: Kathleen Lorring

April 7, 2012

In an unassuming building on Wilmington Pike, just south of Dorothy Lane in Kettering, We Care Arts hums away with activity.  Participants sit around tables focused on art projects while teachers and volunteers roam close, ready to help anyone in need. From its learning center, to the art studios, to the gift shop, We Care Arts serves over 500 individuals annually with a mission to turn disabilities into possibilities through the arts.

Surrounded by shelves brimming with donated yarns, paints, glazes, and other materials in a back studio space, artist Kathleen Lorring sets-up her space for several dedicated hours of working.  A regular at We Care Arts, Lorring is a jack-of-all-trades.  Her paintings line the walls of the gift shop, yet it is clearly evident that painting is but one of her daily creative processes.

Lorring discovered art in the 1970s as a student at Wright State University.  Originally from Dayton, her time in school was focused on working with clay.  There, she was exposed to visiting artists and professors and inspired by a variety of artistic methods.  Life after school deviated from the arts, and Lorring moved to Erie, PA and started a family.  It wasn’t until her brother became hemiplegic that Lorring returned to the Dayton area.

Severe depression put Lorring in the hospital for 11-months. Art became essential to reconstructing her life and now is a regular part of her everyday activities.  Her “creative baking” involves transforming Krogers boxed cake mixes into magical worlds, where Egypt comes to life in pyramid cakes, and experiments in ingredients might be infused fruit juices instead of water.  Projects are numerous, and include the ambitious “General Motors Series” in which discarded parts, such as rusted car hoods, are the canvas to paint endangered animals in her whimsical, loose brushwork.  She writes: “[I am] not interested in men or women…mostly giant turtles, giant panda bears, giant loch ness monsters, old drive-in movies, and giant tubs of pop cop corn.”

The paintings embody exactly that: elephants dance alongside horses, clowns and acrobats; a shark swims through a room decorated with a birdcage, a piano player, and a fine lady enjoying a few cocktails.  There is much joy in these works, and the loose brushwork, bright colors alongside earth tones, and romantic imagination of these works.

Another current project is a lampshade sculpture, essentially a collage of found objects.   Flowers, toys, clay pieces, glass beads, and discarded costume jewelry adorn the armature of the shade.  A coherence between the variety of materials has been accomplished through varnishes and paints, applied and rubbed away to find the perfect paten.  Already, Lorring has put over 100 hours of time into the piece, experimenting with the way light shines through the different elements when turned on as a functional lamp.

Because of the supportive environment We Care Arts provides, Lorring and many others, can thrive as artists in the process of healing.  On a mission to build self-confidence and learn independence, participants with emotional, physical and/or mental disabilities are the client base served.  Executive Director Terry Schalnat dedicates her time to allow individuals to “reinvestigate how they are healing through the power of art.”  Individuals with brain injuries, Down Syndrome, or bipolar disorder, to name a few, are a part of the fabric of the client base and Schalnat offers that art be a part of overcoming the tendency to introvert, and a part of the process “to step out of seclusion and enter a life again.” When Lorring become a regular artist working at We Care Arts, she wrote, “I was accepted; my handicap was no longer an issue.  As I looked around, I realized that there are a lot of people like me.”

Everyone arrives for different reasons at We Care Arts; all are guided through a healing process in search of better health, both mentally and physically, self-esteem in skill development and expression in visual artmaking.  Through the We Care Arts gift shop, clients’ work is on display to the public and they are able to create an income. Schalnat said, “a piece bought from We Care Arts is a piece of someone’s health and their self esteem, and their quality of life is impacted by this process of making work.”  Lorring’s paintings, ceramic dishes, jewelry, batik scarves, wood work and more, at a variety of skill levels and creative independence, Schalnat believes all of the work is exceptionally beautiful. “Sometimes the artwork does not look exquisite until you know the history of the person making it.”

Learn more about We Care Arts at www.wecarearts.org or visit 3035 Wilmington Pike in Kettering.  Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 am – 4 pm and Saturday from 10 am through 2 pm.

Published by the Dayton City Paper in Art Everywhere, April 3, 2012

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