Talking Thoughtful Improv With Artist Donalee Kennedy

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Donalee Kennedy (

Acclaimed sewist Donalee Kennedy spent much of her career as a successful jeweler, a portion of her life fueled by the same intense drive that guides her to create stunning works of art these days.

“I am very typical of people in my generation in that I took home economics classes in high school and sewed with my mother and grandmother from an early age,” said Kennedy, who is based out of Columbus. “I’ve always like working under pressure. For example, when I was in high school, I might be asked out for a date on a Friday for later that night, and I’d rush home and sew an entirely new outfit to wear on the date.”

Kennedy said that she didn’t sew for years while she was running her jewelry business, until she retired in 2012.

“The jewelry business had just gotten out of hand. It was very successful, which is what everyone wants, but it was just too much, and I really wanted to do something that was more fun and less stressful,” she said. “But, as they say, you can’t really change the color of your spots, so when I went headlong into quilting and sewing and I found that I was just as obsessed and driven and motivated and passionate about it as I was about the jewelry.”

April 1, the Southeast Ohio region will have the chance to take in some of Kennedy’s artistic quilt techniques, when she hosts a machine quilting master class workshop entitled at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. The day-long workshop will focus on teaching participants how to quilt without a pattern. Each participant will have a chance to create a 24” by 24” piece by the end of the day.

Kennedy refers to her quilting process as “thoughtful improvisation.”

“It’s a completely different way of looking at quilting; it’s very similar to how in the very early days of how quilting women would just put together whatever they had. They didn’t have patterns or templates of any kind, they just put them together however they felt looked good,” she said.

Kennedy’s master class relates to the Decorative Arts Center’s current main exhibition, Circular Abstractions: Bull’s Eye Quilts, which was curated by world-renowned fabric artist Nancy Crow. Kennedy took lessons from Crow when she first started her journey back into the world of creative fabric work.

A piece by Donnalee Kennedy entitled "Which Path at Sunrise." (
A piece by Donalee Kennedy entitled “Which Path at Sunrise.” (

“I am a snow bird, and I come to Columbus to spend a part of the year – and when I learned that Nancy Crow just lives 45 minutes outside of Columbus; that a world-acclaimed progressive abstract fine artist lived so close to me, I just knew that I wanted to study with the best,” said Kennedy. “I took my first class from her five years ago and she is just phenomenal; an excellent teacher. She really works hard to bring out the best in her students. She won’t give you the answers, but she will give you the right questions to ask.”

Kennedy expressed that she is excited to work with a diversity of people during the master class, and not only those who are well-versed in making fabric art.

“Everyone can do something creative, it’s just a matter of practice,” said Kennedy. “One of the things that (Nancy Crow) really advocates is really doing your work and studying it and practicing it, to ask yourself, ‘what are you willing to give up for your art?’ I expect excellence from everyone around me, and I expect excellence from myself.”

Kennedy referenced the intricate works that are a part of the Circular Abstractions exhibit as an example of what thoughtfully improvised pieces can be.

“When you look at those works, you see the colors they use and the contrasts they create, you see where they want your eyes to go,” she said.

The master class will take place on April 1 at the Decorative Arts Center, located at 145 E. Main Street in Lancaster, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost for the class is $125, which includes lunch.

When asked what students should bring, Kennedy advised that participants sign up for the class as soon as possible so that she can send them emails to prepare them for the master class.

“You don’t have to be a great sewist to participate. All you really need is flexibility and curiosity – those are the main things,” Kennedy said. “And also, a sewing machine!”