Closer Look

Artist Kim Keelor paints with wool

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Sasha Widman

Kim Keelor is a multimedia artist who creates dynamic water-based artwork using ancient techniques. Keelor is largely self-taught and has lived in the southeastern United States her whole life. In fact, while she currently works and lives in Franklin, she has also worked and lived in Charleston, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., Dallas, Texas, Louisville, Ken., New Orleans and Lake Charles, La., and Tampa, Fla.

Before focusing on art, Keelor was a journalist and communication strategist, working as a news reporter for more than 30 years. In terms of education, Keelor has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University and a master’s degree in leadership studies from The Citadel in South Carolina. 

LOCAL ARTIST Kim Keelor’s unique fiber creations are on display at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center.

Always, though, she had an interest in and a bent toward art. In 2022, Keelor completed an artist residency with the Working Artist Studio Provisions of Scotland on the Isle of Skye. The residency marks Keelor’s transition from her career as a journalist to a full-time artist. While Keelor started her artistic journey with watercolor and oil painting, she transitioned to wool as her common medium; however, she still focuses on watercolor and oil.

“I love felting because I feel like it connects me to so many generations,” she explained. “It’s sustainable and needs to be used. Also, people at all age levels can do some form of it. Wool is so malleable; you can do almost anything with it. I also like that I’m using less chemicals. Oil painting and other mediums involve so many chemicals … it’s not sustainable or environmentally friendly. I like that felting only uses soap and water.”

Keelor creates complex, durable, and tapestry-like artworks through two different kinds of processes that bind the fibers in natural resources, like wool and recycled silk, together. These two processes include needle felting and wet felting. Needle felting is often 3-D and uses one or many barbed needle(s) to bind fibers together. Wet felting creates a tapestry-like, mostly flat, artwork and uses soap and water to bind fibers. 

Furthermore, “unlike needle felting which was introduced in the mid-1900s, wet felting is archaic, and the oldest form of fiber art,” noted Keelor. “One of my favorite things about felting is that it connects me to thousands of generations and millions of people who have also practiced felting.” 

The wool used comes in the form of roving or batt, both of which are cleaned and oftentimes dyed. Keelor prefers that her materials are from organic and humane sellers; she obtains many of her materials at the South Eastern Animal Fiber Festival (SAFF), which is one of the largest fiber fairs in this region. This year, SAFF will be hosted Oct. 18-20 at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher, N.C. 

“Etsy is great too,” said Keelor, regarding where to obtain supplies. 

Currently, Keelor’s intention is “to compel the mind and enliven in the spirit, while supporting planet health and constructive mindsets.” 

Keelor now operates out of her studio at the Cowee School Art and Heritage Center. She offers classes on wool felting at the Cowee School, Uptown Gallery in Franklin, and Middleton Place National Historic Site, in Charleston, S.C. Additionally, on April 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Cowee School Art and Heritage Center will be hosting a community day, during which Keelor will be teaching wool felting, alongside other Cowee School artists teaching dance, pottery, weaving, and more.

Sasha Widman is a junior and an honor student at Franklin High School.