The executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council finds a subtle-but-unmistakable bond with a man who died before she began her serious artistic pursuits, and feels a bit of legendary textile designer Alexander Girard’s inspiration in her work.

Part of Kathryn Armstrong’s perspective is as straightforward as Girard’s striped carpet in late industrialist J. Irwin Miller’s office in downtown Columbus. And it is this: How can a sketch artist or painter work in this town in which Girard made so much of his mark — the Miller House, for example — and not feel a measure of his influence?

“I’m not trying to take something and develop some sort of mimicry,” Armstrong said. “But I realize I am influenced by the real (thing), because that’s where abstraction comes from. Design, repetition, color and patterns are all over in our daily environment. And that’s one thing I hope that people recognize.

“That’s what Alexander Girard was doing,” she added. “He was looking at different cultural influences to make a (design) language universal — so that everyone could accept his work on some level.”

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Armstrong’s latest free, and recently opened exhibit, “Finding Connections: Works on Paper Inspired by Alexander Girard’s Textiles,” at Gallery 506 inside the Columbus Area Visitors Center downtown highlights some of the link between her abstract drawings and paintings over the past decade and Girard. She will focus on some of their shared interests during remarks at an opening reception scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. July 20.

Right at the top of a recent conversation, Armstrong acknowledged that she didn’t clearly see connections until recently.

“This was something I started to realize as I was unpacking when I moved here (from Indianapolis) a year ago,” Armstrong said.

When Armstrong took weeks and looked through a box of Girard textile samples, she began to see a relationship between some of her patterns and colors and those of Girard. Viewers can see some of those connections especially with a couple of Armstrong’s striped works among 18 framed images.

Other similarities surface in Armstrong’s liberal use of the color gold in her work, a hallmark of Girard’s design of the local 301 Washington St. space from the entrance to the second floor, for example.

“Gold is an intentional (visual) grab” Armstrong said. “It does something to the eye. It’s flashy.”

One other small similarity: Girard’s grandfather and father operated an antique shop; her mother owns an antique shop.

Still people need not strain for deep, hidden meanings, as the artist sees it.

“If people want to enjoy this just for something such as the visual composition, that’s fine,” Armstrong said.

Anne Surak serves as director of exhibitions for the upcoming Exhibit Columbus temporary architecture event. She also is an art dealer, a past Washington D.C. gallery coordinator and a person who has curated several site-specific projects featuring Armstrong’s work, most of it much larger than these pieces. Plus, she owns several of Armstrong’s abstract paintings.

“What I love about her works on paper and what I find really intriguing about her is that she finds these really personal connections,” Surak said. “Her smaller works on paper, while still abstract, are quite lovely and have this quality that makes them really relatable. And I think that’s hard to do, and it’s really impressive.”

Jan Banister, the visitors center’s retail manager who oversees the gallery, said she especially enjoys seeing a more laid-back side of Armstrong, who has had to be both quite serious and somewhat intense as an arts council leader making tough financial and other decisions nearly right out of the gate in her 13-month tenure in that post.

“Kathryn has a lot of personality and is a very fun person to be around,” Banister said. “But she’s certainly had some serious challenges to address (in her job). So, what really strikes me is the whimsy of this work.”

Apparently, that struck at least one person before the exhibit was completely installed. Because one piece sold already within a body of work priced modestly from $100 to $500 each for most of the framed pieces.

“That (interest) is always a good sign,” Banister said.

A love(ly) connection

What: “Finding Connections: Works on Paper Inspired by Alexander Girard’s Textiles,” featuring the abstract sketches and paintings of artist Kathryn Armstrong, also executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council.

When: Through Aug. 15

Where: Gallery 506 inside the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

Information: 812-378-2622

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.