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Arts & Culture

San Antonio Arts Community Loses Artist, Teacher Katie Pell

San Antonio lost an artist and a teacher, Katie Pell, early Saturday morning. She was 54 years old and had fought cancer for about a year. Two weeks ago, she entered hospice. 

Artpace Director Riley Robinson met her in 1995.

"Katie Pell was really an amazing artist. She's a really amazing teacher. And she was a really fantastic friend to me and my family," he said. 

Robinson remembers seeing Pell walking and jogging through Southtown, and when her daughter was born, they were frequent visitors to his studio.

katie_pell_3.jpg
Credit Nate Cassie
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Katie Pell lies next to one of her own drawings.

“She'd bring her daughter down to my house because I had an outdoor swimming pool and it was just a cool place for them to come and go swimming,” Robinson said.

Pell had many exhibits over the years at Artpace, starting with her residency there, where she created a bizarre series that artist and friend Nate Cassie described.

"She created a series of these panels to tell a story of these women who wanted to customize appliances, much like a car club would customize a car," he said. 

Essentially, Pell answered the question: what if women created over-the-top appliances like some men do with cars?

"And then she actually did it,” Cassie said. “She worked with two different car clubs to customize things like washing machines and stoves, to shoot flames or to hop like with hydraulics."

She created appliances with racing stripe paint jobs, flame-belching stoves. 

"My favorite was, I believe, it was a washing machine that had hydraulics that would hop and the controller was a blender. So you would push the buttons on the blender to make the hydraulics move," he said. 

Artist Ethel Shipton sized up the intellect behind the artistry. 

"She thought faster and quicker and saw things connecting before any of us. And then she just waited for us to catch up," she said.

And while Shipton loved Pell's art, the person herself made an indelible impression. 

pell_family.jpg
Nate Cassie
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daughter Bygoe, late husband Peter Zubiate and Katie Pell making fanciful centerpieces for a gala

"She was a magical person, an amazing, caring, giving person and incredibly talented, gave her time and space to lots of people and lots of children," Shipton said.

Pell taught the young, all the way from children to college age.

"Children that went through the Southwest school team program. I think she taught at Northwest Vista. She taught at UTSA for years," she said.

The three people  interviewed about Pell all fought back tears as they spoke, which is another metric of the impression she left the city’s art community. 

The public may attend a memorial service Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Ivy Hall on South St. Mary's Street. 

Jack Morgan can be reached at Jack@TPR.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii.