Crankies Artist Katherine Fahey Inspires Baltimore With the All-But-Lost Folk Art
by Lauren LaRocca
Published January 10 in Baltimore Magazine
Excerpt: When Katherine Fahey was in grade school, one assignment changed the course of her destiny. She was tasked with creating a papercutting, but instead of the usual hearts or snowflakes fifth-graders might make, she challenged herself to cut a panda bear in the middle of a bamboo patch.
The homework came at a time when Fahey was sick and had to stay home from school for a couple days. She remembers spending hours in bed, likely with a fever, slowly cutting by hand her intricate image.
“I go back to school and have this amazing papercut, and my teacher was like, ‘Wow,’” Fahey recalls. “I think that was the first time someone had said to me, ‘You’re an artist.’ People had known my drawing before that, but I remember that being the year when teachers started saying things to me like, ‘It’s okay you’re not good at science.’”
Suffice it to say, her papercuttings have become even more elaborate over the years. But it was the discovery of “crankies”—the 19th-century art form that combines storytelling and a hand-cranked scroll of illustrated images—that allowed her to integrate her work as a papercut artist, shadow puppeteer, and vocalist with her love of folk tales.
Crankies, in a word, became her niche—so much so that she’s now known as the Godmother of Baltimore Crankies, the Jane Appleseed of Crankies, or the Matron Saint of Crankies, depending on whom you ask, and her devotion to the all-but-lost art form has had a ripple effect on the Baltimore arts community.