The Westmoreland Museum of American Art's Meet the Maker: Kirsten Lowe - Rebel

Native Pittsburgh artist and small business owner of KLoRebel Art, Kirsten Lowe-Rebel, creates architectural drawings of iconic landmarks and buildings, and reimagines them as pieces that can be used, worn, or shared. Her product line includes her original artworks, mini-prints, pillows, aprons, onesies, puzzles, and her pieces can currently be found at our Museum Shop!

During the following interview, Kirsten shares why she’s fascinated with architecture, the inspiration behind her work, and her process for creating her artworks and products. Read on to find out more!

To have the opportunity to add one of Kirsten’s works to your collection, to purchase a KLoRebel piece as a gift for a loved one, or to meet Kirsten in person, register to shop during the Museum Shop Holiday Mart!

Grand Concourse of Pittsburgh, Hand Drawn in black and white

What is the first thing you can remember making?
Every year before Christmas time, I planned a gift making project. I did lots of crafting, encouraged by my Grandmother. I would do a different product every year, always Christmas themed. The earliest thing I made was likely something painted on glass plates, ceramic ornaments, or something made with Popsicle sticks. They were always gifts, and I’m still making gifts!

Please, describe your work:
The drawings are the most important part of course, but I also love taking a second look at them and re-imagining the line work into the product line. My architecture drawings are put on to functional items, and placement is everything. My goal is for each piece to be appreciated on a few levels, to stand on its own as a lovely designed home good or wearable piece. It’s the best when you have to investigate a little closer, or when only you know it’s actually a drawing of a place that is special to you, like your favorite bridge or where you became engaged. I also love the boldness and life in the line work. Even though I draw buildings, I think they look like they want to speak.

Hand Drawing of Greensburg Courthouse in black and white

What drew you to drawing and featuring architecture/skylines in your work?
I’m drawn to (lol) old brick structures. I may not have the language to speak on architectural terms; my appreciation is purely aesthetic. The time I spend drawing each structure feels like a meditation or becoming part of a time in history with that structure. Since landmarks and skylines connect people who have a shared love of them, I’m very interested in the intimacy my drawings and products provide with the buildings and places we love most.

White pillow with Pittsburgh skyline printed on it. brick background

What is your motivation for creating these pieces?
I have worked in many styles. Studying art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I worked with color and paint and the old style of printmaking. That’s quite the opposite of what I find myself doing now, which is less conceptual, more commercial, better priced, and accessible, not to mention mostly all black and white. Honestly, when I draw structures and houses in the Pittsburgh region or most any pen and ink style (which my Grandfather liked most), it connects me to my Grandfather. Whenever he saw my work, I got the sense of what would please him, and I have always enjoyed making my Grandparents happy. Now, since he has passed, I can still feel his pride in my work, and it fuels my fire today. He’s not alone. There is such a rich history of architectural renderings, and I feel lucky that people like my take on them.
Please describe the process of creating one of your artworks and one of your aprons and/or pillows?
Almost everything I do is manual. I draw by hand and scan the drawings so they can be printed onto textiles. I work with my Uncle, who digitally prints my textiles. I also work with a few other organizations that sew up the products after the printed fabric is completed. My Grandma still sews some of the products, like the new masks we are making for the pandemic. I really do enjoy all the parts of the business, even down to the cutting, tagging, and packaging! Cutting up an abundance of my drawing prints is how I started rethinking what is possible for products people can use in their homes. I do a bit of decoupage AKA Modge Podging with a proper sealing technique, and that feels like the right medium for me.

collection of coasters printed with different Pittsburgh architecture

Describe for us the atmosphere when you are at work?
I’m so thrilled to be working out of the Ice House studios in Lawrenceville. I have been familiar with the building for some time and working from it for the last 3 of my 6 years in business. I have a smaller unit (for now). It has exposed brick, 4.5 windows that go to the floor and let natural light in, and has great energy. The building has history and beautiful architectural details. It’s where ice was shipped by boat and trained in, and I heard they even sold waterbeds out of it in the 80’s, maybe that’s a rumor, but I love the water theme. I really enjoy my space, and I draw from an old semi-drafting desk that my Grandpa built for himself and the engineering company he owned for many years.

What is the most fulfilling part about your work?
I enjoy the freedom to explore, to be a “tourist in my own town,” riding the Gateway Clipper for research, sharing stories and hearing about other people’s love of our steel town. It’s so fun to experiment with new products and find what will work based on retail trends or who I can collaborate with locally.