Rising to the Occasion
Katherine Klimitas keeps on creating
FRANK METHE PHOTOGRAPH
“I’ve broken hundreds of bones in my lifetime, yet I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gone to the hospital for a break.
This fact usually shocks people.”
– Artist Katherine Klimitas, who has osteogenesis imperfecta,
commonly known as “brittle bone disease.”
atherine Klimitas isn’t one for spending much time in hospitals. There is just too much work to be done and, as always, it’s deadlines, deadlines, deadlines!
Forget that Klimitas’ diminutive body must remain strapped to an electric cart, which she must operate with her fingertips to get from point “A” to point “B.”
“I don’t dwell on that,” the 23-year-old Loyola University graphic arts graduate says. “It is what it is! I’m thankful that I have a talent that I can use to make beautiful things, things that move people and things that they can enjoy. It’s all very fulfilling.”
“Things” like her own design agency; an ongoing flow of art (“I prefer watercolors.”); jewelry she designs, constructs and sells online and at jewelry shows; book and music album covers; print advertising … and always it’s deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! And then there’s the never-ending ebb and flow of paperwork that goes with all that business.
All of Klimitas’ work is done while she’s lying on her stomach atop a large worktable with pens, brushes, inks and paints around her.
To get to that working position, Nicole Bell, Klimitas’ assistant for the past year, must unstrap Klimitas from her $30,000 electric cart, lift her ever so carefully lest she break bones and place her gently into working position atop the table.
In the face of that kind of daily existence, fireball Klimitas sort of shrugs her shoulders in a “no big deal” gesture then gets to producing her stunning visual world, which comes in a variety of media. Bell is ever at the ready, because outside of traveling around her home in her German-made cart, Klimitas is totally dependent on her until her veterinarian mother returns from her osteopathic pet care clinic in Metairie.
“Certainly I have a handicap,” Klimitas says. “I can’t deny it. It’s part of my life every day. But I don’t dwell on it. Never! There’s no point in that. It is what it is. Nicole is a great blessing. She does more for me than any aide ever could do. She goes above and beyond her job. In the short year that she’s been with me, we’ve become close … we’ve become friends.”
Bell chimes in, “People ask me what my title is. Agent? Manager? Assistant?”
Klimitas cuts her off: “Just don’t call her my handler. One time in an article, somebody wrote that Nicole was my handler. Handler? I’m not a dog. Dogs have handlers. I’m a human being, and human beings don’t have handlers!”
The two women break into laughter. Then Bell offers a copy of Klimitas’ book: Looking Up “Lived, Written and Designed by Katherine Klimitas.”
“In a nutshell that tells the story of who I am and where I came from … my passion for my work, my family …” Klimitas says.
Bell flips open to a page showing Klimitas meeting Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of the country music group Sugarland. Staring down at the page, Klimitas says, “That was the best night of my life.”
“I love Sugarland,” she says. “That’s my real passion. I would love to work in the music business. I love the creativity and the fast pace of the music business. That would really be fun. To do artwork for Sugarland? Wow!”
The book is a fine blending of pain and joy, determination and accomplishment. Sprinkled in are the sometimes thoughtless comments of others: people who gawk and sometimes overindulge Klimitas out of pity. Again, the shrug. One chapter of her book is titled, “What is normal anyway?”
Klimitas puts down the book.
“My father, who died last April, was a veterinarian like my mother. I don’t want to say they were workaholics, but I don’t think I’m too far off. They always believed and taught me that you should work for what you earn. Nothing comes free. You have to learn to value what you have and you value it through your work.” She continues, “That’s just the way I was raised. I see people who are on disability and maybe they shouldn’t be. Those kinds of people drive me crazy. You have to have goals in life and you have to have your work.”
As Klimitas speaks, Bell pulls out artwork: commissioned pieces of animals, highlighting a large, captivating wall piece composed of a collection of eyes of wild animals. It is clearly the centerpiece of a vast body of “animal” work. Klimitas “hmmmmms” and says, “I would guess I would sell that for $1,200.” She shows some of the jewelry she’s designed, including several that are highlighted by the single tooth of an alligator, which has a scene painted on it.
“A friend of my mother is an alligator hunter,” she says. “He gave her these teeth.”
The afternoon wears on and Klimitas comes back to her constant companion, osteogenesis imperfecta. It is the foe she has held at bay and in the face of which has refused to run up a white flag for her entire life. It is as though her work and her artistic accomplishments are her weapons, and with those weapons she has remained ahead in the battle.
“When I was younger, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have two or three broken bones at a time,” she says. “But it’s been about a year since I’ve broken a big bone.” She reaches to a wooden table and knocks on it. “I’ve learned how to get around (without any breaks).
They say when you hit puberty your bones strengthen a little bit and your body gets a little stronger. But it’s been awhile. I know it’s (osteogenesis imperfecta) still there but like I say … about a year. Now, I don’t consider ribs a big bone. They break and they heal quickly. But the others? I know that I’ve broken every bone in my body at least once. I don’t even go to the hospital any more.” She continues, “The only time I would go to the hospital is if I thought there was something wrong with the metal that’s in my legs and in one of my arms and if I feel that needs to be checked. But sometimes my bone breaks were so light that they didn’t even show up on X-rays …”
But those are hard memories to be put aside. There is a jewelry show coming up, and Klimitas has to finish selecting the pieces she will offer. And while her work slacked off during the summer and early fall, Christmas is on the horizon, and there will be increased calls for her to design ads touting gifts and jewelry to be offered for that special somebody.
And work to keep Klimitas high up on that table, on her stomach, looking down at her creations taking shape and showing the world that she has a lot to be thankful for.