Murrysville artist Patty Kennedy-Zafred remembers seeing the heartbreaking photographs taken by Lewis Hine in the early 1900s documenting the working conditions of minors for the National Child Labor Committee.
“It was really fascinating, especially the pictures of these boys in the mines,” said Kennedy-Zafred, 70, of Murrysville, a fiber and textile artist whose work is currently on display in four parts of the Pittsburgh area this month.
One is the BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery, an extension of a larger “Food Justice” exhibition in Contemporary Crafts gallery in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Working with photographs in the Library of Congress – where she first encountered the work of Hines – Kennedy-Zafred began creating quilts that combined working-class men, women and children in America with de many products that their work helped to produce.
“I started screen printing the prints on vintage grocery bags,” she said. “I buy them mainly on eBay. They come in this horrible condition and you wash them several times and print on them. I thought it really suited the pictures.
To do screen printing, Kennedy-Zafred leaves his personal studio for Artists Image Resource on the North Side of Pittsburgh. “People over there look at me sideways when I walk in,” she said. “Printing on feed bags can be a real challenge. It used to be for me, but now it’s just the physical side of things as I get older – putting together the quilts, the job of dyeing the fabric. I can spend two or three weeks working in dye buckets before I have enough material to make the quilt size I want.
Since switching from using her own photos to collecting at the Library of Congress, Kennedy-Zafred has created quilts focusing on child labor, the Native American experience, coal miners, women of color and the Japanese-Americans who were placed in internment camps in the United States during World War II.
“They’ve all been on display quite widely across the country,” she said.
The latest is “American Portraits,” which focuses on farm workers across the country. Not only does this concern modern America, where family farms are rapidly disappearing rate, but it’s also a reminder of Kennedy-Zafred’s childhood in rural Ohio.
“My family weren’t farmers, but these faces were familiar to me,” she said. “I grew up with men, women and children like this.”
From migrant workers to Dust Bowl survivors, the tough life of the era is reflected in the weathered and faded colors of the food bags. Kennedy-Zafred also preserved the small bits of text and information that are included in many of the Library of Congress photos, letting them mingle with the translucent lettering on the feed bag to create a sort of agricultural pastiche.
In addition to the BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery, which is located in the Mellon Building at 500 Grant St. and is also accessible from the T station, Kennedy-Zafred’s work is on display at Artists Image Resource’s “Impression 2021»At 518, rue Foreland on the north side; as part of “Food Justice: Developing a healthier community through ArtAt Contemporary Craft, 5645 Butler St. in Lawrenceville; and as part of the 108th Annual Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Exhibition at the Detective Building, 224 N. Euclid Ave. at East Liberty. This exhibition runs until January 12.
“It’s always exciting for me to challenge myself, put my work forward and compete as a fiber artist,” Kennedy-Zafred said. “There are only a few fiber pieces in the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh exhibit. It’s the oldest artistic organization in country. And I also have a piece right now in the Craft Forms exhibit at the Wayne Art Center in Philadelphia, so it’s always nice to be one of the few textile pieces in high-profile shows like this.
For more on Kennedy-Zafred’s art, see PattyKZ.com.
AandE | East | Lawrenceville | Local | Star of Murrysville | Art & Museums | Pittsburgh | Westmoreland