Life changes brought local artist Catherine Partain a new focus
for her work and renewed spirituality.
by Naomi Jo’el Glover Photo by Beau Gustafson
|Catherine Partain is rapidly making a name for herself locally and nationally as an artist—an artist who welds. At 5’1” and weighing in at just over 100 pounds, Partain may not seem like the ideal metalworker. However, the most interesting thing about her is not that she welds, but what she welds.|
Two years ago, Partain experienced a tumultuous divorce that she says left her spiritually and emotionally drained.
She remembers one night waking up and feeling as if God was telling her to make a cross. Following this revelation, she began making crosses out of anything she could get her hands on, whether it was scrap wood, old wire, or seashells off the shore.
Partain’s cross-making soon became a spiritual quest and celestial obsession that brought her back to a point of spiritual togetherness. “I needed to rebuild some semblance of happiness, and this was a way of doing that,” she says.
With the help of a friend with knowledge of metal, Partain soon found welding. She quickly developed a passion for the gritty danger and artistic freedom the method supplied. With the help of her friend, Partain created over 20 crosses, each unique in its own right.
“I was beginning to find some peace amidst the chaos that had been so present in my life,” Partain says. However, her strength was put to the test once again. The close friend who had introduced her to metalwork, and who served as a catalyst to her new path, died. Partain was devastated to lose someone who had played a key part in this new era of her life but grateful that they had shared this journey before his passing.
“These crosses had begun to symbolize something bigger than metal,” she says. “They had become a path of redemption for both of us.” Through her friend’s death, Partain realized the extent to which these crosses could comfort others. “I took the crosses that we had worked on to the funeral and gave them to his friends and family,” she says.
Partain was astounded at the appreciation that people showed for these crosses. “I saw that they represented something different to each one of them, and that is when I decided that I wanted to keep making them,” she says. That spark set off a larger realization, as Partain recognized that her crosses could be not only a spiritual tool for her but could symbolize something meaningful to others.
Partain soon noticed that the supplies and work space she needed to carry out this artistic endeavor were being provided almost miraculously. Friends who were stirred emotionally by the crosses began giving her materials. Eventually a workspace was provided by an old friend, whom she now credits as a huge part of her success.
Partain’s crosses were soon being shown in local art galleries and inspiring others, showing her that her work was having an impact. “I began receiving letters and affirming words from people who had been touched by my story and these crosses.”
The artists’s workspace, like the artist herself, can be described as laidback. Loud noises and scattered dust and debris indicate a unique artist’s personal sanctuary. There is one rule, however: scrap only. When asked why she uses only scrap, Partain is quick to say, “Because I was that scrap.” For Partain, the scrap represents the human soul, particularly her own—dirty and unclean and then redeemed through the cross. “Before this redemptive journey I had done everything wrong but realized I could be forgiven and made new, Partain says. “Now, the ugliest pieces I find are my favorites. I will reach down under the grime to get those burned, twisted pieces that you would at first think to pass over.”
When talking to Partain, it is easy to see that her aim is love, not religion. She will tell you that the stifling, restricting and often judgemental aspects of religion have burned her in the past. However, though the past may be unpleasant, Partain believes it brought her closer to the realization that spirituality is not about judgment.
Partain chooses not to push her beliefs on others but relies on compassion and understanding to reach out. This is evident not only in her personality but also in her art. “I know how easy it is to turn people off, and the cross has often been seen as an oppressive symbol,” she says. Partain hopes that her crosses represent a new sign of hope, the same hope that she has gained over the past two years. She admits that she has often been tempted to make other pieces of art besides crosses, but it never feels right. Partain takes this as a sign that she is doing something that she is “meant to be doing.”
For now, Partain looks forward to the future, exercising her artistic voice and making a positive impact on people’s lives. Notoriety seems to be right on her doorstep as new opportunities are being presented each week. One of her pieces has recently been unveiled as part of the permanent collection in the new Hutton Hotel in Nashville.
However, much like her life, her work and her art, Partain is eager to keep things simple, then wait for the miraculous to happen. “I have come to know that if you focus on loving people, just simply love them; things will all fall into place,” she says.For more information about Partain’s art, visit www.crossesbycatherine.com