Kathryn Godwin: Making Art From the Familiar

Artist creates works to transform space, in ways both theatrical and sublime


Many would uncork a bottle and simply jettison the cork. Visual artist Kathryn Godwin might instead craft a tree. Coffee filters become flowers. She loves creating identifiable natural elements out of the completely unexpected.

That’s only one way the transplant from Florida expresses her creativity. She’s designed and executed in-store displays for Anthropologie and created gallery windows, a paper wedding dress for the Biltmore Estate, and commissioned installations for Charlotte homes. “When I’m executing art, it becomes very meditative for me,” she says. “I can escape, become calm, and be in this moment and this space.”

What first drew you to art?
I grew up in a very creative family. My dad’s a landscape architect and civil planner. My mom is an artist; she paints furniture and does glassware. She always knew I was going into art. But I went to college for PR. It was when I was in Italy taking classes to satisfy my studio art minor that I said, “This is what I have to be doing.” My drawing professor would take us up to the mountains or to a piazza to draw, and the sense of being in a place and getting to draw it really connected the experience for me. That’s something that became part of my art—the connection to a place and the significance of a place and what the story was about it.

You graduated from Florida State University with a BFA in studio art. Why did that appeal to you?
I like the play of three-dimensionality—what is it for a viewer to be inside of it? The whole theatrical aspect of setting a stage.

How do you approach a design project?
It depends on the clients’ needs and if they already have inspiration or not. I can help develop that for them if they’re just starting from scratch. Or they might have a concept or color scheme, so I’ll pull inspiration, share it with them, and they’ll pick what direction they like. Then I’ll work on sketches and a little prototype.

Where do you “pull inspiration” from?
Everywhere. Pinterest is so easy for communication and sharing inspiration, so that’s a main source. I follow a handful of blogs, read lots of magazines, visit museums, and I’m constantly snapping stuff on my phone if I see a great pattern or building. I’m especially drawn to paper and any kind of fabric or fiber. I really love the element of the two-dimensionality, the texture.

Do you have a favorite installation?
I did an Earth Day window for Anthropologie where I made a tree out of corks and an oceanscape created out of Q-tips, coffee filters, and plastic wrap. They really transformed the space into something magical and unexpected.

How do you determine what suits a space?
It’s an intuitive thing. Various elements come into it—the light, the size of the space, the colors. I learned a lot of things from working at Anthropologie, but one of the main things was stepping back to assess at all times.

How did the U.K.-themed installation come about?
The owner of the house had seen my work at Anthropologie, so she reached out. They wanted this U.K.-London Underground-British rock ’n’ roll theme. She had inspiration already and referenced street artists I was familiar with. Mr. Brainwash and Banksy both do a lot of graffiti and repurposing iconic images—think Andy Warhol with more of a ’90s pop culture reference.

She also wanted a ceiling installation. They have a second-floor window that looks down over a shark tank, so I thought it would be funny to have a school of fish appearing to jump out of that window, swarming over the room. I tried to cut them out of vinyl records myself at first, but it was not practical, so, I actually worked with a laser cutting company in South End. They’d never cut that kind of plastic before, but they said, “We’ll try it,” and within two hours they had cut what would probably have taken me 20 hours to do.

How involved were the homeowners in the process along the way?
We had consultations beforehand, but they actually went on vacation while I was working on it. It was really fun and, at the same time, kind of intimidating to have so much trust put in me by the client.

What was the most challenging component?
It was so completely different from anything I had ever done before. Typically my drawings are very concise and methodical. I really had to lose myself and trust I was going in the right direction.

Do you have advice for homeowners wanting to add whimsy?
Just have fun and play. People often talk about how they don’t have a style, but if you’re combining elements that you like and colors that you like, a style will come through.

How would you describe your art in just five words?
Lively. Whimsical. Unexpected. Vibrant. Well-crafted.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Creating something that can be inspiring to someone, and that can bring a smile to someone’s face, is really important to me. Maybe just for a moment, they will forget anything else that might be troubling them.