The nonprofit branch of San Antonio art and design organization French & Michigan has published a book dedicated to the memory of artist Katie Pell, who died in late 2019.

Katie Pell: All She Had to Say presents quotations from Pell drawn from various points throughout her life, first collected by her friend and neighbor Angela Martinez and projected on the fence of Ivy Hall at Pell’s December 2019 memorial service.

The 64-page book is the first part of what will be a yearslong project to memorialize the life and art of Pell and her husband Peter Zubiate, also an artist and woodworker who died in 2017. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to their 19-year-old daughter Bygoe Zubiate, who in turn has said on Instagram that she will donate part of her proceeds to the Yanaguana-Somi Se’k Book Collective and other Black Lives Matter organizations.

Ethel Shipton, an artist and friend of Pell’s, approached French & Michigan after the memorial service with the idea of a smaller publication prior to a planned comprehensive artist’s monograph to be published in the coming years.

“That was really Ethel’s goal when she approached me about putting this together,” said French & Michigan curator Céleste Wackenhut. “That we’ve got to make some smaller steps in advance to keep [Pell’s] voice alive, and to keep reminding people of her and her work.”

A book of Pell’s quotations “was such a beautiful way to do it … with her own words.”

Many quotes put Pell’s avid promotion of beauty, kindness, curiosity, and self-confidence on clear display. “It’s not a competition. Beauty is an infinite resource,” reads one quote taken from her This to That collage series of 2010-2019, which pairs polaroid photographs with hand-written thoughts.

“Some people decide on change and other people have it thrust upon them. Either way they learned a lot,” reads another, as appropriate to the current pandemic era as to her own diagnosis of terminal cancer earlier in 2019.

A quote from the late artist Katie Pell is projected during her memorial service at Ivy Hall. Credit: Courtesy / Jennifer Ling Datchuk

Former San Antonio Poet Laureate Jenny Browne wrote the introduction, with fond recollection for the friend she helped through cancer and hospice. Browne said Pell’s voice remains in her head, particularly during this time of pandemic challenges.

As Pell faced her own death, she became acutely aware of the limited time she had left, Browne said. “In this moment, I think everyone – if they’re paying attention – is thinking about how they spend their time. And time has taken on this whole new texture.”

As Pell faced her final days and contemplated how she had lived her life, Browne said, “One day, just out of nowhere, she said, ‘Why have I clung to my unhappiness?’”

While a heartbreaking thought, Browne recognized Pell’s ongoing struggle to believe in herself as strongly as she exhorted others to do so.

One Pell quote rings poignantly in that context: “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to reflect all that’s beautiful about you back to you?”

While Pell did not get to see reflected back to her the encomiums of hundreds of friends, colleagues, and former students gathered for her December memorial service, another of her own quotes reflects her aspirations: “We can’t all be born beautifully gifted. We can’t all be born beautiful, or with great families, or families, or parents, or good parents, or people who understand us, but we can all make ourselves into something magnificent.”

Pell was well-known for her frankness. During a social function, Wackenhut was talking with someone about French & Michigan’s ongoing series of publications on artists, when Pell interrupted. Wackenhut recounted Pell as saying, “I know a reason why someone should do a book on me, because I’m dying.”

While jarring, the comment was meant to be lighthearted, Wackenhut said. Pell’s directness prompted her to consider expanding the scope of the publication series to focus on San Antonio artists whose legacies haven’t been documented. The portion of proceeds from All She Had to Say that does not go to Zubiate will help fund the larger Pell monograph, slated for publication in 2023, and a subsequent book on the work of Peter Zubiate.

“I think Pete and Katie are definitely two voices that need their incredible careers documented,” Wackenhut said. “And there will be other legacy projects that will be important for us to take on.”

The book’s title is taken from the last line of Browne’s introduction: “How lucky we were to hear all she had to say.”

Now others can experience that same voice, whether or not they heard it directly during her lifetime, Browne said.

Katie Pell: All She Had to Say is available for online purchase with shipping or in-person pickup at French & Michigan through Aug. 14. Location and purchase information is available here, and Wackenhut said future opportunities for in-person pickup in late August and early September of the book will be also posted.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...