Western North Carolina Woman

photos of kato guggenheim by max poppers

profile: kato guggenheim

by arlene winkler

It is no coincidence that my impending visit to the studio shared by Kato and Fred Guggenheim gets me thinking about creative couples … and about their infinite variations on what Shakespeare so aptly termed “the marriage of true minds.”

There is certainly no shortage of examples in the world of fine arts. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen clearly collaborate on his oversize sculptures of ordinary objects; Christo and Jeanne-Claude on the other hand, have separate and essential roles in bringing off their enormous ephemeral installations, such as The Gates and the Wrapping of the Reichstag; Nancy Spero and Leon Golub are clearly political, clearly inspired by separate muses, she by the politics of feminism, he by the horrors of destruction and violence. Closer to home, the now deceased Anni and Joseph Albers emigrated to this area from Germany in 1933, when Josef was invited to develop the visual arts curriculum at the newly established Black Mountain College. While Josef made his name as an abstract painter, and continued to teach and write, Anni made extraordinary weavings, developed new textiles, and ultimately became one of the foremost textile artists of the twentieth century.

“Fred and I are two individual parts of a couple,” Kato explains as we walk through the spotlessly clean studio. “We know how to stay out of each other’s space. We’ve spent the last 10 years working together. Before this, each of us specialized and we had our own studios. I was working in clay and Fred in silver, but at one point Fred wanted to learn stained glass, and that’s when I got into glass myself.”

They were just getting started when Kato answered an ad for apprentices at the Vertrate Artistiche Toscane, a stained glass studio in Sienna, Italy.

“We really had to scramble because we were learning on the job. But there we were, working together, struggling together, and it was great fun! Later on we took glass courses and went on to study at the Corning Museum School of Glass. That’s when we decided to combine studios.

“Working together has allowed us to grow in a lot of ways. Working alone, no one is there to challenge you. Working together is always a negotiation. With two strong people it sometimes gets difficult.” She points to a work-in-progress, a group of sand-blasted glass pyramids, and points out that they’ve tried three different resolutions for the finish.

“Each of us has our own ideas, really two different visions. We get very excited. It adds dimension to the work, to the marriage, and it adds to ourselves.”

African 48 x 14 x 3"


Land, Sea, Air


Four Squares 48 x 49 x 12"

Escaleras 41 x 12 x 12"

Forest Visions 24 1/2 x 26 x 16"

Synergy 14 x 16 x 3 1/2"


Although there is broad variation in the pieces she shows me, much of it is cool, geometric, and best of all, misleadingly referential; the viewer is reassured at first by the seemingly familiar forms only to be surprised by the unexpected angles and juxtapositions, the mix of glass, steel and concrete put to non-monolithic purposes. Although the simplicity of the individual pieces has a minimalist quality, the effect is richly evocative, stirring visions of places forgotten or not yet visited.

Because each of the materials has its own individual process, and throws off dust that the others must be protected from, the studio is amazingly clean and orderly, filled with a broad range of equipment. The section where we are currently standing, for instance, contains a sand blaster, kiln, tile saw, welding table, grinding wheels, a lap wheel with finishing disks and Kato’s latest acquisition, a small band saw. There is also an overhead arrangement of plastic tubing-cum-plumbing, because glass cutting must always have a water feed.

“Fred and I work here 6 days a week 7:30-12:30. The daily repetition of coming in here to start is very important. Coming to our studio daily is very important for the continuity of our work. When we go home, we do office work and we’re done. We explore the city and make use of the theatre, concerts, galleries. Blue Spiral has become our home away from home.
It sounds almost idyllic, but I live here too and I know it wears thin. “What do you do for inspiration?”

She catches me really off guard by naming my own husband as a source. “Robert Winkler, the way his works flow up…getting that movement in the concrete and glass.

"And exploration—exploration is very important.” She guides me, grinning, into the gallery part of the studio, points out forms that were clearly influenced by trips to Mexico, Bali, a recent visit to South Africa. “But a lot of what we do, even the move to concrete, glass and steel, is related to moving into this studio three years ago, being surrounded by wonderful materials.

“What about your early influences?” I ask politely.

It’s no surprise when she mentions Magdelena Abakanowicz, Ursala Von Rydingsvard, Louise Bourgeois. When I ask whether her parents were artistic, I discover I’ve caught the artist in a contemplative mood.

“I just finished reading Originals, American Women Artists; Conversations with Women Artists from the 1930s to the Present. It made me think about ‘where did I begin?’ I grew up in Queens. The first thing I recall was reading. I was an avid reader when I was still too young to get a library card. When I started school, my big discovery was Mrs. Purcell who taught the handicapped kids. She would let the rest of us make plaster casts once a week. I loved it so much I wished I could do it all the time. Later, I went to the New York High School of Music and Art. I remember my daily routine, meeting a group at Queens Plaza, climbing a mountain of steps, wearing green and blue stockings and dressing the way art students dressed. There’s a quality of that I see in downtown Asheville, a discontent with traditional fashion.

“We started a sculpture group here in Asheville two years ago; Mountain Sculptors. I wanted to base it on the women’s sculpture group I started when we lived in New Hampshire. It’s been meeting for more than 10 years now. There’s a sense of commitment to ongoing communication, to taking responsibility—very professional, very intentional, very high standards. In Asheville, the focus seems to be on having shows and selling.”

Which brings me to my favorite soap box, but this time I don’t interrupt—she doesn’t need any prompting.

“There’s no denying it's wonderful to sell a piece, but selling is not my goal as an artist; rather it is confirmation of my work. I make my pieces because I need to, or want to, and I work on a piece until I feel its finished. It’s not unusual for me to go back to a piece to redo it until I feel like it’s finished. The vision comes when it comes and then I’m able to express it in my sculpture. I know internally if it looks and feels real and I work to produce it.”

"Don’t you wish that your efforts were supported by the community?"

“That’s a two way street. I think it would help immensely if the city did more to make art visible. One of the things that’s been happening is that art has changed. You no longer have the continuous narrative we once had in painting and sculpture. Artists are going outside now to show their work. Look how many people went to the Gates in Central Park…thousands, and not all of them were art afficianados. It takes being visible to attract that kind of attention. It’s good for the arts and it’s good for the community. That’s what we need here, an area for the community to have exposure to these artists and their works.

“And the other side of that two way street?” I ask.

“The outgoing head of Tri State Sculptors hit it right on the head in his last letter to the members, ‘What have you done this week that brings people in the community into what you’re doing?’ It’s good for us to explain our work, it adds to our own experience to be able to take people ‘there’ and help them understand it.”

Are you listening, Asheville?


The work of Kato and Fred Guggenheim is currently on display at:

The Center for Creativity and Design
The Greensboro Public Art Project
C.T. Morgan Gallery, West Jeffersonville

Recent exhibits include:

Conn Gallery, Landrum SC
Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, Hendersonville, NC
Eleven Eleven Gallery, Washington DC
Two Feet Under, Vadim Bora Gallery, Asheville NC
Married To Their Art, Upstairs Gallery, Tryon NC
Blue Spiral Gallery, Asheville NC
CULTIVATING A LIVING TREASURE The North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville NC


Arlene Winkler is a freelance financial writer, specializing in institutional finance. Her articles are published in financial trade journals all over the world. But don’t bother to GOOGLE her—they’re all credited to the executives who employ her. A former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with her culture shock by writing a North/South novel under her own name.


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