ROANOKE, Va. – One Roanoke woman is making a difference in the community with her trash-to-treasure art. She’s doing so, not only by inspiring people to care about the environment but by inspiring people to care about their passions as well.
Katherine Devine, 64, is the owner and operator of Katherine Devine Studio.
It is an art studio where she teaches people from all walks of life how to hone their skills
“I taught part-time with different organizations but then I got established and made the transition to do small lessons,” Devine said. “In my studio, I get to do what I do and then share it and then teach it.”
Her teachings began when she had children.
“I had my own fantasy that I would be doing my art and they would be doing their own thing, but then they wanted to do what I was doing,” she said. “So, I started teaching little neighborhood art lessons for kids in the neighborhood.”
Those lessons expanded to more than just little children.
“I do small private lessons,” Devine said. “I do them for some young people who are trying to get their portfolios together for art school. I work with children with special needs. I think having learned many years that that population benefits in quieter, smaller groups. I do this for a living, so I also think it is important I’m teaching young artists to figure out how to make a living in this industry. I’m still figuring out how to make a living as an artist, but I am teaching young people along the way to help them get their careers off the ground.”
Something unique about Devine’s art is that it is not made from your typical art products.
“I did have that kind of personal feeling about how our environment is so compromised,” she said. “And does the world really need more of what I am doing? So, it really helped me to think about, ‘What if I made my art out of things that would otherwise end up in the trash.’”
From statues to puppets to marionettes, Devine creates it all.
“That helped me kind of focus on the joy of creating without feeling like I am not being aware of the reality of the world we are living in,” Devine said. “Like the needs of our environment and the attention that needs to be given to it.”
Her puppet project started when the pandemic hit, and she had to stop her face-painting sessions.
“I had kids of my own, and I loved to paint, but I didn’t realize it would become a real side business,” Devine said. “With COVID, that was wiped away for obvious safety reasons. I had to pivot to something that would not pass the virus on. Puppets became a focus.”
With puppets made from scratch, Devine performs different shows all around the community.
“It is something about sharing that joy and doing something that is just so goofy that people can’t help but laugh at it,” Devine said. “That has been so atonic to me.”
If you met Devine today, she is filled with smiles and laughter; however, that wasn’t always the case in her early life. Things were not the happiest at home for her as a child.
Nevertheless, art was her therapy.
“I am already in that process of self-reflection,” she said. “I do feel fortunate that my early education was in a public school that was very encouraging in this field. I always got a lot of attention for being a drawer, but I was very shy. People would notice my drawings.”
One day, she was inspired to take her art to another level.
“I remember going to an assembly where this person went to our school and he took this lump of clay, put it on a wheel and spun it around and then he held up a vase,” Devine said. “I thought, ‘I was going to do this. I can do this.’ They had a program at my school where if you got your work done in the morning, you could spend the afternoon in the art room.”
That is when she began exploring the art of puppeteering and marionetting.
“I began seeing art in a broad way and not just as a painting and sculptures and galleries and museums,” Devine said. “But it is in people’s lives in a much more integrated way. There was something about taking these bits and pieces and arranging them in a way that when they moved, it all came to life.”
She said having those moments helped greatly as a child.
“It benefited me because I didn’t have a great childhood,” Devine said. “I ended up being on my own at a very young age. When I was 16, I ended up leaving this very abusive home and living in a town that was new to me. I was the one kid in high school that enjoyed school lunch because it was better than what I could figure out on my own. Just figuring out how to take care of myself at that young age was a mix of happiness because I was kind of succeeding and doing it.”
Devine found herself in a more positive situation thanks to the help of some adults in her life at that time.
“I had one teacher who made it a point that I could continue to go to school,” she said. “She drove me to school from this little town to the school she taught at. What really helped is that she helped me apply and get a scholarship to go to art school. That was the beginning of when I felt like my life was like the lives of other people.”
The rest is history from there. Her experience as a child and her transformation into an artistic adult shaped the woman she is today.
She can now relate to and help others who grew up or are growing up in a similar situation.
“There is a certain sense of isolation and differentness when you come from a situation that isn’t typical,” Devine said. “That helps me connect with people who don’t see themselves as being like everyone else. It does make me more sensitive and have more empathy. There is a way I would love to share this in a way that can inspire kids.”
Her mission is to inspire others through her art.
“I think there is a certain stubbornness or grit that we can have in our own beliefs in ourselves,” she said. “I feel like the world of imagination can be like a medicine where you can escape situations that are not healthy for you, imagine worlds different and better and see yourself in a different way.”
Devine’s success has led to multiple recognitions including an artist of residence for the city of Roanoke starting in July.
She said for as long as she can, she will continue to make a difference in the Deep Blue Ridge.
“Making your life work. That is what it is all about. It isn’t just the project,” Devine said. “It is the process and that doesn’t end when you walk out your door and you face problems in the community, relationships and the bigger world. It is the action of doing stuff. Getting out and creating, and making, and doing helps us not stay stuck in negative emotions.”