BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Healing Sanctuary is not only the culmination of three years of work for art teacher and graduate student Kammy Downs, but also a nod to her own personal healing journey.
Downs’s work is currently on display in the FHSU Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art. While listed on the gallery’s website as an MFA thesis exhibition in drawing, visitors will find that the artwork incorporates much more than just paper and pencil.
“I’m usually listed as mixed media,” Downs said. “When I started the master’s program, I was doing a lot of drawing on paper and collaging with that, and I dyed my own paper. As I went along in the program, I decided I wanted to experiment with drawing on and dying fabrics.”
Ten pieces make up Downs’s thesis, each depicting a plant that can be used as a natural remedy. Each piece was crafted from ink, water-soluble graphite and thread, overlaid on various fabrics, such as cotton voile, recycled muslin and recycled cotton. Downs dyed the fabrics herself, using natural plant dyes.
“I took the top ten natural remedy plants that were most important to my initial healing journey in life,” Downs explained. “I’ve learned to use natural herbs, homeopathy, essential oils, and nutrition therapy.”
Downs also found inspiration in the importance of having a positive, intentional thought process – something she learned during her years as an art teacher. She compared personal growth to the growth of roots and seeds, which takes place mostly underneath the surface.
“[Growth] in dark places under the surface has a dramatic effect on your behavior, what direction you go, and how successful you are,” she said. “It’s really important that you intentionally think through what you tell yourself so that your thoughts are serving you and not undermining you as an individual.”
One of the other central pieces in the exhibit is Seeds4HOPE, a community art project. Downs started the project as a part of her Social Practice Art class. She chose to research the issue of depression amongst farmers and residents of small communities.
“While I was getting ready for the project, I wanted to go to some smaller communities to bring awareness to the issue, and to all the resources available such as counseling,” Downs said. “COVID took over, and I wasn’t able to go out to any communities. I noticed that everybody was dealing with depression and there are a lot of mental struggles. I decided to open it up to anybody who wanted to participate with a Facebook event page.”
Participants of the project sent in pieces of seed-shaped fabric with words, drawings, or anything that brought the word ‘hope’ to their minds. Downs then sewed each ‘seed’ onto a long piece of fabric, which she referred to as a ‘garden row.’ The project is ongoing, and anyone interested in participating can email Downs at kammyLdowns@gmail.com or visit the most recent Facebook event page for more information.
“I’ll probably stop in June of next summer,” Downs said. “My ten thesis pieces will go to Topeka in November, a gallery in Kansas City in March and April, and then a gallery in Newton. I’ll do a workshop at each of those on the Seeds project as well, so I’ll continue to sew the seeds on.”
Healing Sanctuary is on display through Friday and can be viewed in the Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.