When fine artist Kathryn Keller heard about a pair of exhibits highlighting the pioneers and present-day residents of Petaluma, she knew the timing was right to share a collection of her works.
Her larger-than-life portraits of inspiring local women are now part of a trio of summertime exhibits featuring faces, personalities and profiles of River City neighbors and the settlers who helped shape the community.
Presented at IceHouse Gallery in the historic Burdell Building, “(Mostly) Petaluma Portraits” features eight charcoal drawings of women Keller admires for “leading lives of quiet heroism.”
Most she’s met since moving to Petaluma from Oakland in 1987. Although her artwork has been shown widely throughout the state, “(Mostly) Petaluma Portraits” is her first solo exhibit in her adopted hometown.
Keller, 68, has a deep connection to Petaluma, although she considers herself a relative newcomer; she’s been in town 30 years, after living in more urban cities.
Many in the community reached out to her and her husband when they returned home from a camping trip to Montana to discover their “tiny, little house” in west Petaluma had burned to the ground, destroying much of Keller’s artwork. At the time, they’d barely settled in; they’d been in Petaluma a year and a half.
“People in general were like my therapists,” Keller said of the period following the fire.
Her exhibit at IceHouse Gallery reflects on the strength she’s found in the women around her, from longtime friends to those she met at yoga class, the gym or in her neighborhood.
“They’re regular people who I think are really heroic,” she said. “They’re women I feel really close to.”
The large-scale drawings measure 35 inches by 73 inches, each one looking directly at the viewer.
Making eye contact was the artist’s intent. She photographed each woman looking directly at the camera and transferred that connection through her artwork.
“By utilizing scale and the direct gaze, my portraits are meant to be confrontational,” she said.
Viewers will discover more than full-bodied portraits. Each work shares a personal reflection meaningful to Keller — references to art history, feminist issues, contemporary events and pop culture.
In one, “Lindsay, Frida and The Earth Itself,” Keller depicts portions of a 1939 work originally titled “The Earth Itself” by famed feminist painter Frida Kahlo on the sleeveless dress of Keller’s subject and friend, a landscape gardener for a local school district.
She’s drawn with her right hand resting atop her head, a pair of garden clippers in her hand. The stance reveals a tattoo of a skull within a rose covering her armpit.
“Obviously, she’s tough,” Keller said. “If you get skull-rose tattoos in your armpits you have to withstand some pain.”
Another friend, a homemaker who also works cleaning homes and businesses, is drawn with her arms folded across her chest, her short-sleeved dress covered with images of Wonder Woman.
“She’s a Wonder Woman. There was no hiding it,” Keller said.
A self-portrait — only the second she’s done in her long career — shows the backside of the artist. Keller makes eye contact through the reflection in a hand-held mirror.
This summer offers a social mixer of sorts to become acquainted with the people of Petaluma, those long gone as well as residents currently living in the local zip codes.
An exhibition at the Petaluma Arts Center, a companion exhibit at the Petaluma Museum and an unofficial piggyback exhibit at the IceHouse Gallery all pay tribute to those who’ve made their home in Petaluma.
“Face of Petaluma: Portraits of Our Town” is a photographic portrayal highlighting the works of photographers Paige Green, Michael Woolsey, Jude Mooney, Michael Garlington and Ramin Rahimian.
Their portraits focus on local personalities from all walks of life. Co-curated by Mooney and Stefan Kirkeby, the exhibit runs through Aug. 5.
The center, at 230 Lakeville St., is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $3-$5.
For more information, call 707-762-5600 or visit petalumaartscenter.org.
A companion exhibit, “Portraits of Petaluma Pioneers: Personal Images & Public Stories of a California River Town,” is presented by the Petaluma Museum Association.
The exhibit offers photographs from the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum and the Sonoma County Library. Art historian Paula Freund curated the exhibit.
The town’s booming history of the 1850s and 1860s coincided with the popularity of camera portraiture, preserving pioneers’ accomplishments and experiences.
The exhibit runs through Aug. 5. Admission is free.
The museum, at 20 Fourth St., is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon-3 p.m. Sunday and by appointment.
For more information, call 707-778-4398 or visit petalumamuseum.com.
In conjunction with the exhibits, IceHouse Gallery presents “(Mostly) Petaluma Portraits,” larger-than-life-sized portraits in charcoal of local women by Petaluma fine artist Kathryn Keller.
The portraits feature women Keller admires for their quiet heroism and reflect the artist’s references to art history, feminist issues, pop culture and contemporary events.
IceHouse Gallery, at 405 E. D St. (in the Burdell Building) is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturday by appointment.
The exhibit runs through July 30. Admission is free.
For more information, call 707-778-2238 or visit icehousegallery.org.