'Looking Up': An artist's take on the handicaps of society
Katherine Klimitas is not quite like the average 22-year-old.
For one, she owns her own company.
She has also written and published a book.
She is on a first-name basis with country music superstars Sugarland.
Oh, yeah, and she has probably faced more physical challenges to date than most of us will in a lifetime.
Katherine Klimitas, owner of KAK Art and Designs, was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), more commonly known as brittle bones disease. It causes below-average height, frequent bone breaks and has kept Katherine wheelchair-bound all of her life. Her book, Looking Up, is a chronicle of her experiences growing up with her ailment.
“When I was about 5, my aunt took my cousin and I to the Riverwalk, and we were just doing touristy stuff. There was a big orthopedic convention in town, and we didn’t know it, and we all went out to lunch when we were shopping, and I had doctors, orthopedic doctors, touching me and pinching my arms and stuff, saying, ‘Oh, is she an exhibit at the convention?’ And oh, my aunt was really mad. She screamed, ‘No! She’s not an exhibit! She’s my niece!’”
For Katherine, however, the experience was but another example of the obliviousness of some people.
“Well, I usually just laugh at people like that because it’s their ignorance,” she says. “Them making a fool out of themselves. It’s usually pretty entertaining actually.”
Art became Katherine’s avenue to escape the harsh realities of those encounters and to express herself and her love of animals (one of her favorite subjects). Her art career began in grade school at Saint Paul’s Episcopal, with a “very talented and gifted teacher.” She went on to graduate from Ben Franklin High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Her OI has had a large impact on her art, Katherine says.
“It affects everything. Art is one of the main things I did in school that I was good at and that I could physically do. Which is why I got so into it. You know, I couldn’t play basketball, and baseball, and all that stuff in grade school, so that’s what I got into.”
Don’t think that that means she’s not busy. In addition to publishing Looking Up, Katherine owns a graphic design and art company, for which she designs jewelry, paints custom pet portraits, creates other paintings and drawings, and offers graphic design services.
An avid fan of Sugarland, she also recently presented the band’s Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles with a “Little Miss” book she created from photos and writings by 52 of the band’s fans across the country.
“I’m not going to just sit around all day,” Katherine says. “That’s boring. So I might as well do something.”
She hopes her own book will encourage others to do the same.
“There are people out there who have no physical issues. No handicaps. They have money, and they have the ability to do basically whatever they want to do and they don’t. It’s really frustrating to me when people like that don’t fill their potential because they can so easily. I mean, they don’t realize what they have, when they can do things like walk and run. So I hope people like that read it and say, ‘Maybe I should get up and actually do something with my life.’”
So, who’s the one with the handicap again?
Elizabeth Brusseau is among students in Dr. Diane Grams' Research Design Course at Tulane University who have been conducting interviews of people involved in the arts; their stories are published by NolaVie.