Edinboro Alumni Issue: Medis Kent

Friday, October 13th, 2017 at 9:04 PM
Edinboro Alumni Issue: Medis Kent by Hannah McDonald
Contributed Photo

When one first meets Medis Kent, they expect her to be an artist. Her chic, black hair and black knit sweater blend into the dark booth where we speak. The instant she lifts her head from the menu, it’s impossible to ignore her large, rounded glasses with black frames. Her big personality pairs well with her outfit and life-long affinity for the arts. And while she made a career for herself in teaching, she never expected to be known for her own artwork across the globe and the statements she makes within that work.

But first, to Europe. 

Born in a displaced persons’ camp in Poland after World War I, Kent came to Erie with her family when she was just five years old. Growing up, she and her siblings all played instruments and creativity was abundant. 

Laughing, she reminisced, “My dad used to just say he didn’t know where it all came from!”

After high school, Kent moved to Edinboro to attend college, majoring in social studies. The program was not right for her so Kent took a year off from school. She got a job and started thinking, “Is this what I really want to do the rest of my life?” 

Realizing she had to go back to school, Kent decided, “Alright. But this time, I’m going to go and do exactly what I wanted to do.” She assembled her artwork and went back to Edinboro for an interview. 

“I was greatly nervous...I don’t know whether I had much higher expectations or if I had terribly low self-esteem about what I had,” Kent said. “Next thing I know, I’m in the art department, which I loved. From start to finish, I loved the art department.”

After graduation, Kent got a teaching position in the area almost immediately. Her husband was also an instructor, teaching social studies. They remained in the Erie area for many years before moving to Findley Lake, New York, where they live now.

She still uses skills that she learned at Edinboro, but her art has taken an unexpected path. Kent majored in sculptures and fibers at school and tended to combine soft sculptures with different fabrics. Today, felt is her main medium for art. “Fabrics were always in my background, sculptures were in my background. And I guess now I’ve brought my felted pieces to relief pieces...you can see that it’s coming back to that,” Kent said. 

Some of her pieces look like watercolor paintings, with layers upon layers of colored felt pressed to create images and landscapes. 

In order to get her artistic career off the ground, Kent had to disguise her pieces as painting so they would be accepted into traditional art shows. Presentation has always been important to Kent, especially when it comes to her work. In the early stages, she matted and framed them as if they were actual paintings. Today, she still frames them, but has dropped the glass as her pieces have gotten larger.

Over the years, not only has Kent's work taken on a three-dimensional form, but it has also become political in many cases. It was 2003, a year of hardship in Kent’s family, that was a turning point for much of her work. "To deal with all of that I started doing a lot of art work," Kent said.

"I started making political statements when my nephew was killed in the [Iraq] War," Kent explained. "Then, I felt I had a lot to say about that…he was my only nephew, my youngest sister’s only son. And he was in the first assault and he was killed outside of Baghdad. I said he was always killed on the land of the Garden of Eden, of Babylon."

Her first piece influenced by this event was shown in the Campbell Pottery annual Lily Art Show. The piece featured tall, elegant calla lilies wearing army dog tags. There is a faded American flag as the base for the piece.

"That was the first kind of piece I did that made any kind of statement. I remember him [my brother] saying, 'This will never get in. My pretty flowers, why are you doing this?'" Kent recalled.

After that, Kent used art to comment on current events. One piece called “As The Band Plays” was made following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The felted artwork is an abstract red piece with silverish metal pieces sewn directly into it. Each silver piece represents one killed in the incident.

Her pieces have made statements about war, terrorism stateside, the abuse of women and more. Kent has had her work shown across the U.S., Poland and Germany. Right now, she has works in New Zealand and in the spring, some of them will make their way to France for a show. 

There’s no denying that Medis Kent is an artist, with a prolific portfolio of works. Yet, it took her years to be able to call herself such.

"That was such a hard thing to say for so long, you know?” Kent asked.

"Finally, I did come to terms with that because other people were calling me that," she continued, thinking back on when she began acknowledging herself as an artist. "So, I thought, maybe they’re giving me permission to say that."

In all her artistic endeavors, Kent considers herself successful and is thankful.

"See I have to tell you," Kent said, pushing her ruffled bang away from her eyes. "If you would have told me when I retired that all of this would have happened to me, I would never have, no, I would never have thought it.”

"I’m still not over that," Kent said. "I don’t consider myself 'special' or 'extraordinary.' I figure I’m relatively ordinary.”

Continuing, Kent said: "And to think people, in so many places, know who I am, too, is stunning! They’ll come up and they’ll know your name and everything and you think, wow. I hope never to get beyond that either. I hope to always be, 'wow.'”

Hannah McDonald is the assistant news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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