World-Renowned Silk Painter Kathie Matthews
By Paul Boerger
Smooth as Silk
Story and Photo By Paul Boerger
Mount Shastan Kathie Matthews has mastered the ancient, beautiful and complex art of silk painting. A registered nurse for 37 years, Matthews has always been an artist at heart and in practice.
“I had a piece of art submitted to the Laguna Beach art festival in the third grade where I won an award,” Matthews says. “I have been drawing and painting all my life, mostly watercolors. Silk painting is very much like watercolors.”
Contemplating retirement from nursing, three years ago, Matthews took an intensive seminar on silk painting from Susan Louise Moyer.
“Susan is a world-renowned expert in silk painting,” Matthews says. “Silk is a beautiful gift from nature that has been cultivated for over 3,500 years, mostly from China.”
Don’t be misled that silk painting is simply putting a brush to a piece of cloth. Silk painting is, in fact, a highly complex process that involves numerous steps from preparation to completed art. From start to finish, a silk painting includes acquiring pre-hemmed silk in a variety of sizes, drawing the design and making a template, stretching the silk on a custom made frame, positioning the template under the stretched silk, tracing the design with gutta (a resist material), painting the silk with dyes that can be mixed and layered, steaming the piece in between layers of paper and cotton sheets in a homemade steamer, rinsing the silk in cold water and dripping dry, and finally dry cleaning the piece to remove the gutta, leaving the design intact. Optionally, the silk can be pressed with a steam iron between two pieces of cotton sheeting as needed. Not exactly a third-grade art project.
“It’s not a very forgiving process. There is a lot that can go wrong,” Matthews says.
She notes that the process has evolved over the centuries.
“Silk painting techniques have traveled across the world in the past 200 years from Russia, Hungary and then to France where the current techniques are used,” Matthews says. “Wax resists are documented back to the second century in India and then Java. Gutta resist was developed more recently from the palaquium tree in Indonesia.”
Matthews applies the art to scarves, pillow cases, framed pieces and will consider custom orders.
“I like my designs to be whimsical,” Matthews says.
The designs may be whimsical. The process, however, is anything but. Using techniques that stretch back several millennia, Matthews brings to life an ancient craft that results in unique and beautiful art. Matthews’ work is available at Directions clothing store in Mount Shasta.