Descending from a line of embroiders, painters, potters and quilters, it comes as no surprise that Pocahontas County transplant Kathleen Henry would be well-versed in the world of traditional art. Silk pouches and whimsical wooden puzzles of all colors, shapes and sizes dot the white shelves of the 4th Avenue Gallery, but it is the rack of brightly colored silk scarves near the front window that are Henry’s most notable works.
Hand-painted by Henry herself, no two scarves in the gallery are alike, and each one is created using a mixture of silk paints, dye-resistant pens, and Henry’s imagination. Swirling leaves, delicate flowers and oceanic themes – complete with coral, fish and seaweed – are just a few of the designs featured on her scarves.
On occasion, Henry will forego her nature designs for written words.
“Most of the time it’s familiar phrases – such as ‘I love you’ – but I do verses of scripture, too,” she said. “I’ll even throw in a word or two in addition to the scarf’s design if it’s something that fits the overall theme.”
While the designs might be unique to Henry’s imagination, the scarves are not. Rather, three different types of silk scarves are ordered and used as the base for her designs.
The first of the three silks – a flat crêpe – is known for its distinctively crisp appearance; smooth, plain-weave fabric; and silky feel. The second, a habutai silk, is made of a lightweight, shimmering material and has a more luxurious feel than the flat crêpe.
Reminiscent of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, chiffon is the last silk used by Henry. However, because of its thinner weave, Henry’s supply of chiffon scarves are limited.
Each of the scarves takes a minimum of five days to create.
On the first day, Henry begins her process by stretching each scarf out across a wooden frame – handmade by her husband, Tim – and tacking it into place. She then uses resist – the aforementioned dye-resistant pens – to outline each design and/or pattern.
“Most of the time I let my creative juices flow and draw directly on the scarf,” Henry said, “but on occasion, I’ll either draw a design out in a sketchbook or really think about it beforehand. Once I’ve drawn my design on the scarf, I may have to iron the resist on depending on the type I used. Some of the resist will remain clear/white, though.”
Each scarf is then painted using a silk dyes mixed to Henry’s color preference.
“The dyes do not come as you see on the scarf,” she said. “I like to use more vibrant colors, so I generally try to create colors that are more intense.”
Once the paint dries, Henry spends three hours steaming her scarves to ensure the colors have set before rinsing in cool water and ironing them one last time.
Henry began painting scarves after returning home from a visit with her sister in 2011.
Prior to the visit, Henry’s sister had taken a scarf painting class and decided that it was something she wanted to continue doing. During Henry’s visit, the sisters painted a few scarves together, and toward the end of her stay, Henry began painting on her own at the encouragement of her sister.
Henry dabbled and gifted her scarves in the months after, but it wasn’t until 2012 that she joined the Artisan Co-op and began selling her work.
“It was never really something I thought about doing until then,” Henry commented. “The women in my family have always done different forms of art. I’ve sketched, painted, and embroidered, but everything I did was given as gifts. Selling my work was something new entirely.”
Henry recently became a member of the Pocahontas County Art Guild, and when she’s not working on her scarves, Henry can be found crafting little puzzles out of wood, converting snagged scarves into silk pouches, embroidering and quilting.
The Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op operates out of the 4th Avenue Gallery – located at 721 Fourth Avenue in Marlinton – and is open Wednesday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery can be reached at 304-799-2550.
Third in a series of spotlights highlighting artisans within the county.