Thursday, February 12, 2004

Her heart's in her art

Pam Kravetz shares snippets from the front lines of love in three new exhibits

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Pam Kravetz is a ceramic and fabric artist who uses her love life for inspiration.
(Enquirer photo)
In a back booth at Zip's Cafe in Mount Lookout Square, slouched over a glass of red wine and a black bean burger, Pam Kravetz confides: "I've never had a good relationship."

This is a surprise revelation, coming from the woman known to some as the "Love Queen." Kravetz is a ceramic and fabric artist who creates colorful quilted wall pieces based on her love life.

Sound like hearts and flowers? Cupids and Hallmark cards? Guess again. This single mom has dating stories that will curl your hair ... just as soon as you stop laughing.

Beginning tonight at Northern Kentucky University you'll find her quilts in Heartfelt: Artwork that is Pulmonary or Tactile. Her work is also scheduled to be shown at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington and the Annie Bolling Gallery in Oakley this spring.

"My art is a cross between Sex and the City and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Kravetz says. "It's all about me and insights I get from friends and family. One sentence or word can spark an entire body of work."

For example, a friend bemoaning her inability to meet men in Cincinnati said she needed a man magnet to get things moving. Kravetz was inspired to create. She stitched together strips of quilted fabric embedded with magnets and embroidered with hilarious caricatures of women. Tiny cloth magnets holding qualities a woman might desire in a man - amusing, loving, charismatic - are selected by the owner and stuck to the larger quilt to attract her man.

"The man magnets are about being who you are and not compromising," says Kravetz. "It's hard to meet men in Cincinnati. I know so many fabulous women. Where are the men?"

Not quite traditional

She means good men over a certain age. The men Kravetz has come across lately are surely relationship challenged. There was the worst-kisser-in-the-world memorialized in a work titled "Drowning in Saliva." Then there was the guy who, after several dates, told her he loved her but had to leave since she wasn't traditional enough.

Heartfelt: Artwork that is Pulmonary or Tactile
Main Gallery, Fine Arts Center
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights
Opening reception 5-8 p.m. today
Through March 5
(859) 572-5148
Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center
1028 Scott Blvd., Covington
April 23-May 28
(859) 491-2030
Three Crafty Women with an Agenda
Annie Bolling Gallery
3235 Madison Road, Oakley
May 1-30
"Not traditional enough," she squeals. "What's traditional?"

Kravetz, 42, is anything but traditional.

Her nose is pierced; she has shaggy mahogany-streaked hair and, in her spare time, throws house parties where, instead of Tupperware, she sells love potions. Today at Zip's she's wearing a faux mink vest under a turquoise leather jacket. She often wears Pucci-print high-heel boots, and admits she loves to be the center of attention.

"Pam's works have a wonderfully optimistic and whimsical quality," says Annie Bolling of Annie Bolling Gallery, who is mounting a show of Kravetz's work in May. "They reflect her positive outlook on life and her indomitable personality. She includes the things and the people she loves, as well as the experiences that have made her who she is."

She's a single mom to Max, age 9, an art teacher, artist, bingo caller and Pilates habitue. She has volunteered as lead artist for Artworks since 2001 and will work with them again this summer.

"People can go out and see her art in a lot of places," says Tamara Harkavy, Artworks' director. "What they don't see is the tremendous impact she has had on kids. She's worked with Artworks kids to create works that go on to impact other kids. She's amazing."

Born in Golf Manor, she went to Indian Hill High School before the University of Cincinnati School of Design Architecture Art and Planning (DAAP) where she received a bachelor's degree in ceramics and was the Bearcat mascot for two years.

"I was not a good student," she says of her early school days. "I got sent to the principal's office for wearing go-go boots and a miniskirt when I was 5. My mother died when I was in third grade and I became an unhappy child. I had a chip on my shoulder and that pushed me over the edge."

"She was always her own person," says her sister, Andrea Katz. "Even as a child she wore hand-painted clothes. She had a sense of self and was an artist early on. She was also an artist at dodging housework."

Blossomed in high school

She came out of her shell in high school when she took up theater and visual arts. She didn't know what she wanted to do when she graduated, so she took advanced math classes in preparation for business school. The only problem was she couldn't do math, or balance a checkbook.

"In college there was this big dichotomy," she explains. "I was doing this art school thing and I was also in a sorority, Sigma Delta Tau. I didn't fit into either group. I remember one year I was up for homecoming queen and my picture was up at school. An art student said to me, 'Someone who looks just like you goes here and her picture is up in the commons.' It never occurred to him that it was me."

Her art didn't fit in either - no angst-ridden abstracts for Kravetz. At DAAP she was making colorful, figurative ceramics, distorting the figures to be more voluptuous.

"I was also working as a docent at the Contemporary Arts Center," she says. "I discovered I loved to teach people about art. I decided if I liked it that much I should go back to school and teach."

She earned a master's degree in arts education from Miami University and has taught at Harrison High School for 13 years. She has won the Teacher of the Year Award for the Southwest Local School District and received the Friends of Children Award from the Whitewater Valley Elementary PTA.

"Pam is awesome," says Harrison principal Susan Thomas. "She's a creative force with incredible ability as a teacher and an incredible gift as an artist. The kids love her and she never has disciplinary problems because the kids are so into the art. How lucky can I be to have a person like that working with my kids?"

Man trouble

Her dating life has been somewhat less spectacular. She met her first boyfriend, Brandon, in third grade. It has been pretty much downhill from there. She was married for five years, but her husband left when Max was only 3 months old. Three months later, Max had open-heart surgery to repair a valve. That's when hearts began appearing in Kravetz's work.

"Now Max is perfectly perfect," she says. "He knows he has a very special heart. And I have a crush on his cardiologist."

Kravetz develops crushes daily. Besides the cardiologist, she's gaga over a skydiving instructor, lumberjack, and someone she calls "yoga boy."

"It's perfectly healthy," Kravetz says, "as long as you don't stalk them."

Lately she's been concentrating on blind dates.

"I love blind dates," she says. "I use them as an excuse to buy a new lipstick."

She is obsessed with lipstick. More than 60 tubes are scattered throughout her house and in her knapsack and purse.

"I have to go to different places to buy my lipsticks," she says. "The people at MAC see me coming and tell me to go home because I have all the good colors. Your weight can fluctuate, but lipstick always fits."

There are, of course, rules for the acquisition of lipsticks.

"You have to buy good ones," she says. "And you have to have the lip liner and gloss to match. And I want the people behind the cosmetics counter to tell me I look good."

MAC is going to bring out the lipsticks for Kravetz's show at the Bolling gallery, where Kravetz hopes to turn the opening into a big singles party.

She says she's going through a man drought right now, but with a new lipstick and outfit for the NKU show, she's bound to reel one in.

"Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves," says brother-in-law Louis Katz. "Pam wears hers on her artwork."

Kravetz has finished her bean burger and is checking her watch. She's due at a party in Loveland, but she's always late. After the party she will head downtown to look at art. She's almost always in motion.

"When I think about Pam, I think about the expression life imitates art and art imitates life," says her sister Andrea. "Pam doesn't imitate anyone. She's unique."


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