By Krishna Adams, Director of Visual Arts, Craft, Media, and Design –
Craft artist Kathleen Janke of Townsend, Tennessee is a recipient of the FY24 Individual Artist Fellowship in Craft. The Tennessee Arts Commission awards Individual Artist Fellowships annually to recognize and acknowledge outstanding professional Tennessee artists who, through their work, add to the state’s cultural vitality.
Self-employed since 1985, Kathleen Janke works in multiple mediums concentrating on pine needle basketry. She studied at both Northern Illinois University and the American Academy of Art. In 2019 she began to find her focus and with the onset of the pandemic she began to consider working full-time as an artist. A year later she started selling her artwork and by the spring of 2021, she boldly sold her bed and breakfast to focus on being a full-time artist. By 2022 Janke’s basketry and paintings were available at shows, and on her website. During this time, she also taught classes for three different craft guilds. Often on the road selling her work at art shows and craft fairs, in the fall of 2022, she participated in a show or fair 35 out of 60 days.
Some of the material used in the pine needle/gourd basketry is grown by Janke or collected in a sustainable manner. The texture and color of the baskets are inspired by touch, feel, and a connection to the forest floor and riverbanks.
No two gourds look the same. Working with gourds is definitely not a time saver; first, the outside of the gourd is scrubbed with a stainless-steel chore ball and Dawn dish washing soap. When dried, it is ready to be drawn on and cut with a jigsaw to remove the top. At this point, it’s time to scrape and remove the guts and seeds. The next step involves sanding the gourd interior and rim and drilling holes to accommodate the woven pine needles. The gourd exterior is prepped with formula 49 and the interior is coated with wood petrifier. When dry, the interior is spray painted in matte black. The entire process of prepping a gourd takes place over a two-day period, most of it while also running an air handler, and wearing a respirator and goggles. From this stage, the gourd is moved into the studio where Janke assesses the exterior. She will often use gourd paint or alcohol inks on the surface.
The beauty of alcohol ink is the vibrancy of color and the spontaneity achieved. Incorporating the ink, allows Janke to loosen up, relax, and let go when working on the color and free form design. Once the design and color are completed, a few coats of UV varnish are applied, and a finally, a coat of wax. Some gourds are left natural with just a protective coat of wax. Once the gourd has been buffed, it is ready for the weaving process to begin.
The Southern long leaf pine needles need to be cleaned and conditioned before they are woven. The needles are conditioned by placing them in a turkey roaster with water to cover. Dye, and glycerin is then added. The needles are brought to boil for three hours at 300 degrees. At this point, the needles are rinsed for about an hour in clear running water and are laid flat on screens to dry for several days before using them to weave.
When asked about her process, Janke noted, “By wrapping and coiling the Southern Long Leaf Pine Needles together and attaching them to a gourd, I start weaving with a plan or idea. As I’m weaving, the basket takes on a life of its own. It takes me down a path I haven’t traveled before and evolves into an artistic journey for me. Each basket is unique and becomes more than a sum of its parts…It is largely inspired by my close connection to the natural environment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and my love of gardening and experience with landscape design.” – Janke
While Janke creates individual baskets, sometimes she will connect multiple baskets with a piece of driftwood. The driftwood used has a long and nostalgic history for Janke. When she was 19 years old, she worked a summer job at an all-boys camp during a flooding that wiped out all the trees. A couple of years later, she spent Independence Day picking up a jeep full of driftwood along the beach from that flood. She even tied some of the driftwood to the Jeep’s back bumper! Fast forward 40+ years, she is now using the seasoned driftwood to connect the baskets. Some of the longer pieces of driftwood require the artwork to be displayed on a wall. Janke remarked, “The hard thing when weaving multiple baskets onto driftwood, is having them lay correctly on the table during the process. Every gourd is mounted to the driftwood and are attached permanently. I love the River’s Edge piece so much, it’s one of my top three or four baskets.
Janke has received Awards from Arrowmont’s Sevier County Biennial Juried Exhibition (2021 and 2023), the Award of Merit from the Emerging Makers 51st Annual Spring Tennessee Craft Fair (2022), Honorable Mention at the 50th Anniversary Juried Exhibition of the TN Artist Association (2022), Juror’s Choice at No Bigger than a Breadbox, Art Cultural Alliance (2023), and People’s Choice Award at the Art Guild of Tellico Village’s annual show (2023).
In late 2022 Janke began building the Gracehill Fine Art and Basketry art gallery in Townsend. She hopes to be open for business later this year. By focusing on the gallery instead of packing and traveling to shows and fairs she hopes to be able to gain the gift of time to make more work. You can see Janke’s basketry and work here.
This was the first time Janke applied for the Individual Artist Fellowship grant. In fact, this was the first year she applied for any grants at all. She determined that in 2022 she would learn what grants were available and would apply for as many as she could. She visited the Arts & Culture Alliance in Knoxville and discovered multiple grants she was eligible to apply for online. For artists who are unsure if they want to apply for a grant, Janke advised, “You never know if you don’t try. I give myself a full 10 out of 10 for the effort it took to apply for multiple grants and a 6 out of 10 for my artistic ability. If you take the time and effort to apply, you have a decent chance. If you don’t put out the effort, you will never know.”
When asked what she plans to do with the Individual Artist Fellowship grant award, Janke mentioned, “When clearing the land, I saved a Walnut tree and a Curly Maple, had them sawmilled. I will use them to build floating shelving and a table to display my work. The grant will be used to purchase the brackets to mount the shelving to the wall and metal legs for the table. It will also go towards building a counter for the cash register check out area, a rolling framing table in my studio, and a ceiling mounted tilting mirror to facilitate my teaching.”
If you are in Knoxville, the Arts & Culture Alliance will be exhibiting, Kathleen A. Janke: From the Mountains to the Forest Floor, August 4-25. Janke holds memberships through the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, Piedmont Guild, Tennessee Craft, Tennessee Artist Association, Foothills Crafts Guild, Art Guild of Tellico Village, Blount County Arts & Craft Guild, Townsend Art Guild, Oak Ridge Art Center, the Arts & Culture Alliance, American Gourd Society, Handweavers Guild of America, and National Basket Association.