Adornment is Human

Kay Khan’s amalgam of imagery
For artist and maker, Kay Khan, adornment is personal and, simply put, human. Her work is a complex amalgam of imagery. Her inspiration is life itself; her experiences, the things she sees and feels, ideas and even the interplay of words. With vision and intention, she sews, stitches, quilts and embroiders an assortment of textile (cotton, silk, netting, knotted cord, etc.) to produce miniature sculpture for the body.
Khan grew up in a family where every member was driven to create. Closest to home were her grandmother and mother who quilted, sewed and crocheted. Determined to pursue her own passion in art, Khan went to study ceramic sculpture and painting at James Madison University in Virginia. “Textiles, fabric, were always a part of my studio.” Khan insists; yet it was later in her career that she began to design with textile, beginning with vessels in the mid 1990s. “I love working with fabric,” she explains, “however, it took me a long time to figure out how I was going to use it to build something beautiful and powerful.” Collaging layers of drawings with paint, fabric and other kinds of textile, Khan discovered a means to devise standalone works of art.
Khan became enamored with art jewelry upon a visit to the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington. In the beginning stages of her own jewelry making, the pieces greatly utilized hand stitching and braiding techniques. Over time, Khan moved to a process very similar to how she constructs vessels. She works within layers and proportion to assemble what she calls, intricate fragment mosaics. She likens her process to quilting backwards; bolstering the structural integrity of the work, Khan quilts multiple layers of fabric together. She then cuts the quilted pieces apart, which are then stitched back in place to form the desired shape. The piece is then embellished with various types of stones such as quartz, amazonite, tourmaline, topaz and glass beads. “For me,” Khan says, “It is creating a small, wearable sculpture that still feels like I’m building something. It’s an interesting undertaking because now, as opposed to vessels which can stand alone in a space, I’m trying to make something that is interactive with someone’s body.”
Selecting from a library of images within her mind, Khan communicates what she sees and feels into palpable expression. “When I construct the jewelry,” she says, “I’m thinking about color, shape and form, similar to writing a composition and working within that intention and meaning. Colors can have certain meaning and emotion for me. Shapes can serve a very similar purpose in my work as well.” Khan is interested in the nuance of detail and this motivation was her drive to make jewelry. Creating jewelry compared to her vessels, she says, takes a lot of editing. Working on a smaller canvas, the details now contribute a stronger significance to the entire work. Khan explains, “Think of it this way, when I create a vessel it is like I’m writing a book. When I’m working with jewelry, it is like writing a poem. I have to dial down to the essence of my message and do it in a way that maintains the same impact and meaning that I originally went into the work with.” She is energized by the challenge.
Kay Khan’s sculptural work is in numerous collections including the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, The New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, the Racine Art Museum in Racine and the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. Her work has also been included in the books, Textiles: The Art of Mankind and Fiber Art Today, among others.
She is currently a full-time studio artist, residing in Santa Fe, NM. Many of her pieces in art jewelry are found at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe (
“Seeing creates the desire to express. As artists, we understand this impulse. The instinct exists and, if encouraged, continues to flourish.” – Kay Khan


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