Hastings woman sees art in ancient craftwork

5/12/2013 11:45 AM
By Associated Press

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — Ask Hastings transplant Kris Brakenhoff what she does for a living, and chances are you'll get a different answer every time.

Full-time wife and mother. Piano and art teacher. Freelance writer. Batik instructor.

The common denominator in all of these vocations is art. For it is in music and the arts that she has found an outlet for her creative expression. More accurately, through reconnecting with her favorite form of expression — batik — she has rediscovered her passion for artistic interpretation.

"After 15 years of being an illustrator and graphic artist, I found my art again," she told the Hastings Tribune. "I've come full circle to that creative place again and couldn't be happier."

Having relocated to Hastings from Columbus in August 2012, Brakenhoff has set up shop in the old Middle School building. It is there the mother of four adopted children gives piano lessons twice a week. The rest of her time there is spent working on her western-influenced scenic batiks, which she creates on batik fabric made from cotton muslin.

It is an ancient art form that she discovered while still in high school, one that dates to biblical times. Batik technique predates fourth century B.C. in Egypt, where it was used to wrap mummies.

While batik is considered craftwork by some, Brakenhoff — whose art carries her maiden name, Allphin — has endeavored to elevate it to a higher level. In her mind it is fine art. And that is how she approaches each piece she lovingly crafts in her studio.

A former illustrator/graphics designer, she now utilizes those skills to create each batik. To create pieces that will stand the test of time, Brakenhoff utilizes the same dyes utilized by leading clothing manufacturers in her work.

Using a canting tool, she carefully applies molten wax over sketches drawn on the batik. It's a tedious, time-consuming process, but one she has learned to appreciate for its meditative properties. Following the application of each coat of wax, the batik is re-dyed a different color, with only the wax-protected areas retaining their shade.

It is only through understanding color theory that the artist is able to produce the colors that ultimately breathe life into the piece.

"Every subsequent dye bath is going to be whatever the color theory determines it to be," she said. "Unlike when you're painting, you can't tweak it along the way. You have to rely on the process. You really have no idea what it looks like until you remove the wax.

"I often say to people that it's a seemingly limited medium, but it never fails. Sometimes it's a surprise, but it's never a disappointment. Within those limits are endless possibilities."

Her end result is eye-popping original art that continues to garner online attention of numerous admirers from around the world. Among those who have contacted her to express admiration for her work are a number of batik artists from the 1970s whose work helped inspire the arts and crafts movement. One Egyptian batik artist emailed her to say he was fascinated by how she was able to bring her own culture to the ancient Eastern medium.

Such attention never ceases to amaze her.

"It's like Tiger Woods writing to my husband (who loves golf)," she said.

"I've always loved doing batiks. I never expected to exhibit them. I'd finish one, put it in a drawer and just do the next one."

Perhaps her most fulfilling nod of affirmation came during a spring art show in Norfolk in 2012. Of the 22 pieces selected for show, two were hers. One featuring golden wheat stalks earned her Best in Show honors.

Mission accomplished.

"I had crossed it over from craft to being recognized as a fine art," she said.

In essence, she had arrived. Artists in Hastings and surrounding communities have had nothing but kind things to say about her work during her brief time here, she said. And that has made what had initially been a difficult move from Columbus a much smoother transition.

"Nobody wants to move, but Hastings is a good match for both the music and the arts," she said. "I've met so many other wonderful artists who have been so generous with their knowledge, encouragement and connections. I don't know if people here realize how big the arts community is here.

"I'm fortunate in that I don't consider the art a business because I'm so passionate about it. But I don't consider the piano a business, either, because I'm passionate about that, too."


Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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