Kathleen Cavender is finally getting her groove back. Although her paintings and her music are well-known throughout the Northwest — her jazzy vocals lead the Kathleen Cavender Band — she's been somewhat reclusive since the illness and 2013 death of her husband, Mike Cavender, a well-known music producer to whom she was married for 38 years.
"It was like being thrown off a cliff," says Cavender, whose resume up until around 10 years ago was chock full of increasingly prestigious exhibition venues, including Gonzaga's Jundt Gallery, Spokane's former Lorinda Knight Gallery and Italy's Florence Biennale.
When her husband got sick in 2007, however, her focus shifted. She went from being represented by five galleries, painting full-time, singing quite a bit and teaching both music and art out of the spacious studio adjacent to her former South Hill home, to caregiving. Mike died in 2013, after which Cavender found herself facing the illness and subsequent death of her mother, too.
In 2016, however, Cavender moved into a new home, a 1933 "storybook cottage" style house on the eastern edge of the Garland District. She'd let go of most of the antiques she and her husband had collected except a few heirlooms: her grandmother's chairs, her grandfather's watercolor of butterflies — she also kept his journals of sketches, paintings and songs — and assorted Turkish-style rugs which now cover her living room floor.
The multistory brick home she now shares with her fiancée features rounded entries, wood floors and stained glass in the bathroom, but it lacked studio space. Although she's eyeing the garage for future renovations, she retreated to the basement, which felt safe, and she transformed the space in a way that surprised even her.
It's like no studio she's ever had or will have again, says Cavender, who decorated the 12-foot-square space with bold fabrics, exotic-looking furnishings, and remnants of her past: souvenirs from several trips to Europe, her mother's Japanese kimono, the results of a lifetime of collecting art books, and a portrait of the young son she and her husband adopted.
She's made it cozy and lush, with patterned fabric covering exposed beams and a large, plush chaise in the center of the room, laden with richly colored textiles and pillows. Nearby tabletops are covered with candles, treasure boxes and other curiosities. A Parisian lantern hangs from the ceiling in front of a table loaded with replicas of the Eiffel tower and an enormous vintage-looking wall clock.
"I call it boho meets bordello," Cavender says.
Lighting is provided by the daylight basement window, a variety of lamps and a large mirror. When she is at her easel, however, she turns on hanging lights, brings an old chair closer to her painting surface, and pulls from any of a hundred brushes sitting at the ready.
Although she's known for her landscapes, her work is actually somewhat autobiographical, says Cavender, who recently participated in the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture's studio tour with some older paintings. The lone shrub on the horizon or the translucent bubble surrounding a particular tree represents her or things in her life.
Her new painting series will include portraiture and she's already lined up some local women as models, Cavender says. The working title is Virtues of Halcyon, a nod to bygone days when things were idyllic.
She's also working on a monthly meetup she's calling Coffee with Kat. She'll work with participants to develop a vision board, offer hints on journaling — Cavender's journals are works of art — and guide discussion about making personal changes.
And she's been singing more, including an impromptu gig at the Coeur d'Alene Casino for New Year's.
"Every decade, it seems I try something different," Cavender says with a smile.