Going downtown
West Bend artist Joan Kennedy takes next step

By AMANDA BECKER - Conley News Service

August 13, 2017

West Bend’s Joan Kennedy gives a tour of her downtown West Bend studio during an event sponsored by the Wisconsin Designer Crafts Council in this undated photo.
Submitted photo

Joan Kennedy was always interested in art and design. She made her own handbags in high school and she studied it further in college, but it wasn’t until 12 years ago — when her own children went away to college — she finally decided to focus on her current path of using wool to create wearable items.

Kennedy is a skilled fiber artist and is involved with every part of the process, a transformation she calls “a metamorphosis.”

Wool is her fiber of choice. She uses recycled material found in sweaters and other wool garments to create handbags, scarves and hats — first dying the wool, turning it to felt and conjuring up a design. Eventually, she translates that design into one of her original pieces.

Kennedy is inspired by nature: the rich colors of a flower, the subtle lines of a leaf or a ripple of water. The style was a subconscious choice for her. When she began designing the botanical pieces, she lived in a house in the woods and her art reflected that.

“It suddenly dawned on me,” Kennedy said. “I’m just absorbing the shapes and colors of the environment that I’m in.”

For many years she worked out of her home, storing materials in tubs and dying fabrics in her bathtub.

Kennedy said it became difficult to separate the two environments. When she was working, she was distracted by things at home and at the end of the day she couldn’t leave her work.

So, she decided to move her work to a studio. Now, she has a functional location where she has the space for each task involved and less distraction.

“I wanted to be able to welcome people into my studio,” Kennedy said.


Joan Kennedy’s work is seen on display at her downtown West Bend studio.
Submitted photo

The front of her business is set up as a showroom for that purpose. Although it’s only open for appointments so that she can focus on her work, she also uses it for her reference.

“It allows me to continue down a path,” Kennedy said.

She added sometimes the process still amazes her, so the showroom is also a place for her to analyze her designs and draw more inspiration from them.

Located in downtown West Bend on Main Street, her studio gives her flexibility when it comes to turning her craft into business opportunities.

Beginning Nov. 25 through December, for the holiday season, she is welcoming six other artists to share her business space downtown, where they will be open to the public and sell their goods.

Being a downtown business, she also gets a spot at the West Bend Farmers’ Market. She has four spots coming up — Aug. 26, Sept. 1, Sept. 30 and Oct. 21.

Since moving out of her home in the woods and into a studio, her style has not changed, all of her wearable items are still an expression of the natural world.

“I seek it out a little more now,” Kennedy said.

She visits friends’ yards and community gardens for stimulation or she spends time at the Museum of Wisconsin Art just across the river.

This year, one of her newer pieces is an idea that came from a friend’s garden. She had poppies in her yard and Kennedy created a poppy handbag and scarf.

Kennedy is passionate about her craft and enjoys participating in art fairs.

Today and Sunday, she is part of an elite selection of artists in the Morning Glory Art Fair in Milwaukee. For the fair, 120 artists were selected. The Morning Glory Fair is on the Marcus Center grounds, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, and is one of the top-100 fine art fairs in the country.

For more on Kennedy, visit her website at www.joankennedyart.com to see her work and what other festivals she will be at throughout the year.