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the airstream art of kathy deggendorfer

Kathy Deggendorfer was raised to appreciate design and details. 

Growing up in Portland, Oregon as a daughter of the owners of Columbia Sportswear, she “spent a lifetime of looking at stitch length and bar tacks,” she said. “I like to see pattern. The first time I saw an Airstream I thought, wow, those rivets look just like the top stitching on the side of a pair of jeans.”

“I loved the shape, and the seaming around the windows. Drawing them just became a thing,” she said. “It was like picking up a rock that has the right heft to it; you just start carrying it around. Airstreams have a really good feel if you’re into shape and pattern.”

An outdoorsy girl, Deggendorfer also appreciates the trailering lifestyle. “Most people driving around with their Airstream are in a pretty good mood most of the time,” she observed. “They’re doing something fun, and that’s what I gravitate towards anyway with my subject matter. Being raised in a family with a recreational business I love being outside.” Deggendorfer was on the sportsman’s tradeshow circuit even as a youngster. “I’d be the girl in a fishing vest talking to guys about their fishing trip,” she recalled. “I love hearing those stories. Airstreamers are kind of the same sort—people with interesting stories.”

Deggendorfer’s jaunty Airstreams are representative of all silver trailers, so those of you who are trying to ascertain the exact models and years of her subjects can relax. “People always say, ‘you know, you put the wrong number of panels on that’,” she said. “It’s just all about the shape, and the whole idea of how cool it is to be able to hop in your car, and pull all your toys and go someplace fun. I show them with the windows and doors open with the dog hanging out. That cracks me up.”

She prefers vintage models, but depicts some later trailers as well. “The new ones look a lot like the old ones to me,” she admitted, “but it’s the size of the window within the body of the trailer that is most intriguing. I like the smaller windows; they allow for more reflective surface.”

Deggendorfer was creatively influenced by her mother (Gert Boyle was an art major), and raised without television. “I was always a doodler,” she said, “and I spent a lot of time at the beach painting rocks.” After a career in sportswear Deggendorfer stepped away from the family business and in the early 90s moved to her ranch in Sisters, Oregon, where she built herself a studio and grew her art business. Her other creative space—a community arts building in downtown Sisters originally designed as a classroom facility, now remodeled utilizing all green products—is where she transforms the contents of her sketch books into finished pieces that become her Airstream-themed greeting cards, mugs, totes, and trivets. The big open space also allows for acceptance of large scale corporate commissions, often hand-painted tile works. (Those #InBend can view her lobby mural installed at the St. Charles Cancer Center). 

“It’s been cool!” she said of her life and career. “I’ve traveled all around the world, and I get to hang out with Airstream people, too.” Deggendorfer is planning to be a vintage trailer owner herself, and will recognize the right one for her when she sees it; at the Tin Can Rally she spied a park model that she thought might be perfect as a mobile work and display space. “I love the fact that it had a door on either side, and room for hanging,” she said. “I love old, vintage, nostalgic things, so vintage camping is kind of a thing of mine. Because I’m kind of vintage now, too,” she laughed.

Quilters: Find her darling line of high quality fabric for a limited time only at Maywood Studios. Her brightly colored “Quilter’s Road Trip” collection features vintage Airstreams and happy little canned hams, with coordinating fabric in a variety of patterns and colors.

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