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Kathy ross at BIMA Serious fun

Photo by Elizabeth Hunter

Mother-daughter review: Kathy Ross at BIMA

Kathy Ross: Serious Fun exhibition is a feast for little eyes

“How amusing,” said Cora, 7, with a wry smile and that smidge of uncertainty that blooms when little kids try out new words. 

But this new word was well-chosen. Kathy Ross’s sculptures are amusing, every square inch of them. Using everyday items like tea tins and beads, Ross assembles creations that are anything but every day. 

‘Kathy Ross: Serious Fun’ is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, on view at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) through June 2, 2024. The exhibition consists of more than two dozen works spanning a decade of Ross’s career. 

Little Worlds

I brought a crew to the exhibition: my kids, Cora, and Henry (5) and my niece, Claire (14). They quickly scattered throughout the gallery. Claire marveled at the hanging cloud sculptures, Cora stood eye-level with one of Ross’s elaborate wall-mounted “islands.”

Henry started in the center of the room, scooting around on his knees to peer at a collection of sculptures resembling a raised relief map. 

“All of them have little worlds on them,” he said. Blue-colored tin and tiny cutout whales at the base of the sculpture signify the sea; kitschy tin flowers and spirals like the yellow-brick road draw your eyes to the summit. 

Kathy Ross Serious Fun at BIMA

Look, don’t touch! Photo by Elizabeth Hunter

Henry had a hard time not touching the sculptures, but it is a credit to the artist just how many times I had to remind him not to reach his little handout. 

Another little world, Cloud Island (No One is an Island Series), 2021, prompted delight when Cora realized it was (almost) a mirror image. Three kitties (“the queen kitties,” according to Cora) confront the viewer from atop a mountain of cut-out animals. Below, like an iceberg, the three same cats are queens of an upside-down animal mountain. It wasn’t a perfect mirror image, but it was close enough to provide that tickle of the surreal. 

‘Wonderful, whimsical art’

BIMA’s Curatorial Associate, Dasha Moore, said, “We hope children just have fun looking at her wonderful, whimsical artworks — and that they can imagine their own stories, questions, and problems to solve based on their visit.” 

I was indeed delighted by the unprompted stories my children devised. 

About Shelter (2019), Cora said, “It looks like a secret hideout, a secret lab, and there are so many contraptions.” (I guess this was a day for testing out new words!).

“But it’s a good guy hideout because of the rainbow colors.” 

Kathy Ross at BIMA is well worth the ferry ride

A trip to Bainbridge Art Museum (BIMA) is well worth the ride. Photo by Elizabeth Hunter

Serious (but also) Fun

Unsurprisingly, the kids loved the sculpture Shut Up Island with Loud Cloud (2023), a cheeky, frenetic cityscape with SHUT UP spelled out in bright yellow letters that rise like skyscrapers from the summit of the island. Dozens of delicate tin shut ups dangle from the edge. 

Occasionally, our family arguments devolve into two people shouting at each other to be quiet. That’s what I felt looking at Shut Up Island: the tension between these brash yellow capital letters and the sentiment those letters spell out. It evokes a child with their hands over their ears, shouting in frustration. 

Shut Up

Moore confirmed this sentiment, saying, “Ross’ art addresses contemporary issues of noise pollution, like the Shut Up series.” Look closely at Shut Up, and you’ll find tin monster trucks, cars, motorcycles, and airplanes roaring around the island. 

In an artist talk, Ross is pretty explicit: “I love trees. I hate airplanes.” 

This sentence pervades her work, a love for the natural world, for trees and mountains and water, marked by a deep sense of worry. About Firescape (2021), Henry said, “I think a dragon must’ve done this.” But I remember the summer before Firescape was finished when wildfire smoke browned our skies for weeks, and I only wish we could blame a dragon. 

Getting There 

We visited BIMA on our spring break, so we were able to take a 10:40 a.m. ferry from Seattle without a wait or reservation. I suspect the weekend is a different matter. The ride to Bainbridge is just long enough for you to unbuckle your seatbelt, catch a killer view of the Seattle skyline, and make it back to your car by the time you dock.

The BIMA is right up the street from the ferry terminal. The building is striking, and the surrounding grounds are perfect for kids to explore after being cooped up in a car for an hour. 

BIMA is the cultural heart of Bainbridge Island, and its calendar is packed with family-friendly events. According to Chief Curator Greg Robinson, children will enjoy upcoming exhibitions by Bainbridge artist Denise Harris, who builds “small metal worlds that are both miniature and elaborate,” and Nikki McClure, a well-known children’s book author and illustrator whose original papercut illustrations will be on view this summer, starting July 5.

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is free and open to the Public seven days per week, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

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About the Author

Elizabeth Hunter