Kathy came to the Short Center (now the Short Center North) in 1983. Her primary diagnosis was Mental Retardation with a bit of schizophrenia thrown in. She had what she called “spells”, gran-mall seizures that would start with a frightened cry. She left SCN in 2004 due to declining health to attend a day program for adults with more severe disabilities. Her drawing skills have deteriorated, she shakes quite a bit more, but she can still tell a tale – as much of an art form as her drawings, paintings, and ceramics.
She is the heroine in these tales – foiling bank robbers, dutifully giving the money back to “the law”. Sometimes the law would let her keep it. She often said she knew where all the money was but when asked where she would smile and never tell. She told us how she would fix complicated motors in the “friginators” and tractors and that she was the only one who could – not Bobby; when he tried he conveniently got “shocked and fainted”. A similar fate was met by a host of other neer-do-wells who committed crimes, she would tell us. Some who were particularly evil, she reported, got the “lectric chair”. She would tell us how she was loved and admired by a group of nameless onlookers who would witness her heroic acts and lavish praise upon her. She never said these things boastfully, on the contrary, she would speak these self induced truths with her quivering soft lamb-like voice with a slight enigmatic smile, sometimes gently patting your hand as if she thought you were a little to naïve to grasp the grandeur of her acts.
Bobby was the only name we ever heard her use – she’d identify people by their physical traits – “the littlin” and the “biggen”, “ the “fattin”, “that cripple girl” and so on. She carried around a heavy messenger bag and was quick to offer you a q-tip, a hanky, a cough drop, or a bobby pin. Inside she kept a hand-sewn pencil bag made from a scrap of corduroy and secured with a discarded twist-tie filled with minuscule colored pencil stubs that she used at program and at her care home. She also carried several plastic milk container and juice can lids of various sizes that she used to draw her “gaskets”, star-like mandalas that she delicately drew like snowflakes or perhaps like alien landing strips. She would often remark that she knew what was wrong with your car and hand you over a freshly drawn gasket to keep in your glove compartment. Many Short Center North staff sported a variety of gaskets in their vehicles, some with the secret hope that there would be some kind of magical mechanical power instilled in them.
Kathy was adept in many types of media and was in her artistic zenith in the late 1990s /early 2000s. At SCN she worked diligently in drawing, painting, ceramics, sewing, and printmaking with several teachers at this time, including early on with Steve Vanoni, and later on with Valentino Fernandez (ceramics) and Stephanie Skalisky (painting/drawing) – this work is the art mainly represented in her online portfolio. During this time Kathy looked like she just stepped out of a Dorothea Lange depression era photo- thin, stern demeanor, plain, cropped hair, with oversized and always slightly crooked wire framed glasses. She was a self starter who drew constantly – her “Wimmen” as she called them – extensions of her heroic tales, or, maybe herself; marching in a row, usually in profile, bobby-socked, big-haired, sensible-shoed, pointy-collared, no nonsense gals ready to get the job done. She would also remind us frequently that she was the “ooonnnly one who could draw them”. In her portfolio are a few examples of her earlier works in colored pencil, densely colored figures of women in pants and in dresses sprinkled all over the paper (Many Women in Britches). In later work the women are always dressed in neat triangle skirts of various patterns, delicately colored, defying gravity as they advance across the sheet of paper, as if marching off the end of a cliff. As the years progress they become grounded by a single horizontal line, sometimes attacked by wasps as big as Buicks, torturing these poor women to the point of tears (3 Wimmen Getting Stung). Sometimes the Wimmen are accompanied by obedient pointy-eared dogs or cats (Dogs In The Grass, Woman With Three Dogs). Sometimes they are dutifully performing tasks, wrench in hand (Kathy’s Fit It Shop), or having a woeful time (Kathy Reed Band, Kathy Reed Christmas), yet persevering at the job at hand with a mid-Western stick-to-it-ness. She also charmingly rendered animals and birds (Kathy Reed Zoo, 2 Wimmen, 4 Birds, 1 Cat), “The Law” complete with rescued money bags (Mural Details), as well as barns and tall buildings sensibly built on stilts with plenty of windows, crisply parted checked curtains, and accented with a cacophony of stairways, drainpipes and fire escapes (Kathy Reed Farm, 2 Women 5 Wasps 1 House).
Justice prevails in Kathy Reed’s world whether in her stories or in her art. The line of reality may be blurry but Kathy is a superhero then and now, on paper, in spoken word and in person; coming to our rescue sporting bobby socks and a pink hair bow, and saving the day with a gasket and a bobby pin.