Kate Beck’s Marigny textile and design studio
eugenia uhl photographs
When Kate Beck first traveled to the city to sell her work at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, she didn’t know eventually this would be where she set up shop and explore her textiles and printmaking designs for 15 years (and counting).
A native of Portland, Oregon, Beck fell in love with printmaking at an early age and earned her Master of Arts in textile design from the University of Washington. She began her career working small art markets in Seattle, collaborating with a fashion designer and working with fabrics and garment-dyed T-shirts for the printmaking industry.
“When I first started, my main focus was shibori, this was back in the ‘80s before it became very popular, and then mass produced,” said Beck. Shibori is an ancient Japanese-influenced technique of using ropes to dye patterns onto fabrics.
In the early ‘90s, her fashion designing partner fell ill from AIDS and died, leaving Beck with much of the tools and knowledge she needed to continue their work and develop it beyond the northwest U.S. market.
“He pulled me into the whole clothing aspect of textiles, I had the art degree, and he graduated with a fashion degree,” Beck said. “I still have — and use — his dress form from 1989.”
Having gained nearly 30 years of experience in printmaking, today Beck’s textile pieces take various forms, and she is constantly looking to innovate her creations and gallery’s offerings. While occasionally still incorporating shibori into her designs, she has since taken to more woodblock printing and silk screening.
“I’ve supported myself doing arts and crafts fairs for 30 years, basically,” said Beck. “I’ve sustained myself as a single mother, and I’ve worked really hard to get to this stage and compete in this market.
Beck’s pieces are hand-dyed, printed and sewn in the same building. Serving as Beck’s home, gallery, workshop and inspiration, the four-story brick Creole townhouse on a corner of Chartres Street in the Marigny is just as classic inside as it is outside. Green arching doors, floor-to-ceiling windows and a wrap-around porch on the second floor are just a few of the architectural highlights of the building.
Most of Beck’s pieces are inspired by nature including patterns of bees, cotton plants and flowers. She will often follow a theme with each of her seasonal print designs and occasionally receive custom requests.
“Our aim is to create wearable pieces that can also be a canvas for our fabric,” said Beck of her fashion pieces, which include scarves, dresses, shirts and elegant shoulder shawls.
In addition to creating wearable pieces, Beck has recently worked with her neighbor, Chip Martinson, the owner of a custom furniture workshop and gallery in the Marigny called Monkey Wid-A-Fez, on textile home furnishings.
Colorful feather pillows, silk, satin and cashmere throws, antiqued wooden benches and foot stools are comfortably displayed as a part of the gallery showroom. The challenge, she says, is getting the home pieces to traveling art shows, and thus spreading more awareness of the versatility of her craft.
Just past a delicate silk curtain hanging toward the back of the gallery is the rear patio, a roofless open space with multi-colored buckets of dye arranged on a table and materials hanging to dry naturally. Next to the patio is a flight of stairs leading up to the printing studio on the next floor. The French-style studio room is filled with large yards of different fabrics varying in color and material.
“We are working on starting to sell the patterned fabrics by yardage, so people can make their own pieces or bring them to their tailor to make them into something,” Beck said.
Beck is working on several collaborations, including launching a new website with several other local artists (because these are still being determined she did not want to reveal who) to create textile fabrics for wholesale.
Beck is also in conversations with Airbnb, Inc., hoping to include her studio as a cultural arts destination by holding textile-making workshops in the spacious upstairs studio.
“They can all help print and have the fabric to take home with them for whatever projects they may have,” said Beck. “We are working on connecting with groups around the world that may be interested in taking a textile tour around here.”
Kate Beck’s studio is at 2701 Chartres St., and she has her gallery doors open to the public Fridays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Her wares are available online at katebeckneworleans.com.
Beck has a booth every year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and her work is also at the Dutch Alley Artist’s Co-op in the French Quarter.
“What makes New Orleans so special is that there are these little boutiques that have items you cannot find anywhere else, and this is the heart of this city’s strength,” said Beck. “I am very pleased to know that my studio is a part of that.”