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Corporate life to artistic life: A Vashon artist finds a promising new path
A fleeting memory of a childhood arts and crafts experience, followed by a serendipitous Google search, was the beginning of a whole new way of life for Island fiber artist Kira Bacon.
Bacon is well known in the Island art community for her colorful, asymmetric hand-hooked rugs and wall pieces. She’s been a commissioned artist at Vashon Allied Arts’ annual auction, and her work has been featured at the Blue Heron Gallery and other Northwest venues.
But viewers who admire Bacon’s finely crafted work might be even more impressed to learn that 61-year-old woman only became an artist in midlife, after leaving a successful career working in corporate finance and communications.
“In a sense, when I started my arts career, I didn’t know I was starting my arts career,” Bacon said during an interview on a snowy afternoon last week. “I think because of my age I was fearless. I didn’t feel like I had to achieve anything specific, and that gave me a freedom to explore and let it evolve as it evolved.”
When she moved to Vashon in 2003, Bacon said, she was commuting to her job as a vice president in investor relations at Getty Images in Seattle. But she felt a call to do something different.
One of five children in an artistic family — the film actor Kevin Bacon is her brother, and her other siblings include a film composer, an events planner and a development professional at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts — Bacon found herself thinking about her own creative passions.
“I wanted to do something in the art world, and I thought, ‘What would that that be?’” she said.
A bio on Bacon’s website details what happened next: She remembered that at the age of 10, she had enjoyed hooking a rug as a summer camp crafts project.
“The experience is still vivid for me,” Bacon’s bio reads. “I remember the smell and texture of the burlap, the brightly colored yarns and fabrics and especially the worn old wooden tool we used for hooking … The finished project, created by many little 10-year-old hands, was beautiful.”
Now an adult, Bacon went to the Internet, looking for a hooked rug kit, and stumbled across the website of Gloria Crouse, an acclaimed Northwest fiber artist who had exhibited hooked rugs nationally and internationally for decades.
“I went to the Internet with a crazy idea and found a woman who really inspired me, because she had taken a very traditional American craft and turned it into a very contemporary form of fiber art,” she said.
Bacon ordered Crouse’s books and kits and — in a wonderful turn of events — quickly discovered that Crouse lived in nearby Olympia and had two daughters who lived on Vashon. Eventually, Crouse moved to Vashon, winding up living within a quarter-mile of Bacon’s north-end home.
Bacon said Crouse, who died recently at the age of 86, became “a wonderful mentor and inspiration to me.”
Now Bacon, using tools and techniques she initially gleaned from Crouse, is finding her own path to becoming a nationally known fiber artist.
In February, she’ll travel to Baltimore, where her work has been accepted into the American Craft Council’s prestigious show of contemporary jewelry, clothing, furniture and home décor. Now in its 36th year, the exhibition is the council’s flagship show.
Bacon had tried to get into the show for three consecutive years and said she was elated to receive a letter of acceptance this time around.
“It’s very competitive, very difficult to get into,” she said. “It shows a level of accomplishment.”
Bacon is also expanding her horizons closer to home. She’s become involved with the Vashon Fiber Arts and Textile Collective — a group that has transformed the former Books by the Way retail space into a shop and workshop space for fiber artists.
“I really hope that we can make (the collective) successful enough to be able to survive,” Bacon said. “I think it’s a great model and an opportunity for artists to monetize their work, and I think it’s a great contribution to the community.”
Despite her background as financial mover and shaker, Bacon said she is still working on making her career as an artist profitable.
“After working in corporate America for 20-plus years, there are some benefits that have followed through, but making a living as an artist is a struggle, and I certainly have not been immune from that,” she said.
But for now, Bacon remains focused on her work, and still seems to find the same excitement in hooking rugs as she did on the day when her life took an surprising turn in a whole new direction.
“That’s as planned as my life as a fiber artist was,” she said with a laugh. “I Googled it, got this fiber kit in the mail, and my brain exploded.”