Artist’s work draws on Mayan culture

For Patricia Kay, going to see Mayan ruins with her husband, Ken Rayna, was more than a travel exper
“Company Maya,†a group of male clay figures that were inspired by Toltec, Zapotec and Olmec artifacts.
“Company Maya,†a group of male clay figures that were inspired by Toltec, Zapotec and Olmec artifacts.

For Patricia Kay, going to see Mayan ruins with her husband, Ken Rayna, was more than a travel experience. The ancient temples hidden in the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America sparked a 12-year art project and a deeply personal spiritual journey.

“This has changed me for sure. I never saw it coming,” says Kay, a 57-year-old artist who lives in Galway.

“The Maya: An Artistic Homage,” her solo show at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, is a collection of 175 artworks inspired by Mayan culture.

There are 40 gumoil prints and 135 sculptural pieces made from clay and barrel-fired, including “Pretty Ladies,” six-to-eight-inch-tall female figures, and a large colorful Mayan calendar installed on a wall.

Gumoil printing is an alternative photographic process that begins with a positive image contact-printed on watercolor paper coated with gum arabic and potassium bichromate. It is then exposed to ultraviolet light and developed in water.

The resulting negative image is then coated with oil paint, rubbed and etched. The final print, a layering combination of colors, appears painterly, textured and aged, almost as if it was uncovered in an archaeological dig. (For more details, Kay’s website,, includes a link to a 28-minute YouTube video by Karl Koenig, who invented the process in 1990. She will also give a talk/demonstration on Wednesday at FMCC.)

Q: Are there other artists that use this technique?

A: Not many. The man that created it, Karl Koenig, died this year.

Q: Did someone teach you how to do it?

A: I just learned by the book. I just kept trying. It takes a month to make one.

Q: What is barreled-fired clay?

A: To do barrel firing, it’s best to first put it in a kiln. Fire it a little bit. So it still has some porousness to it. That makes it strong enough to put into a barrel. I actually put it in a 55-gallon drum. You put sawdust in, then I put a little coal, wood. Then, I put the pieces in. I layer it with organic material, chemicals like copper, iron. And then you just keep layering it with stuff and pieces, stuff and pieces. When it gets to the top, you light it on fire. About six hours later, the fire stops. The next day you open it up and you see what you have.

Q: The ancient Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012. Some people believe the calendar predicts the end of the world, an apocalypse.

A: No, no. That’s a Hollywood version of it. The Mayan elders, there still is a council of them in Guatemala and in Mexico City, have said that it’s really the end of “the fourth world” and the “fifth world” is about to start. And the fifth world, it’s a little more feminine, with more cooperation. It is enlightenment for people. Each world is about 5,200 years. We’re going into the fifth one now.

‘The Maya: An Artistic Homage’

WHAT: Gumoil prints and clay sculpture by Patricia Kay

WHERE: Perrella Gallery, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, 2805 State Highway 67, Johnstown

WHEN: Through Dec. 14. Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, until 9 p.m. on Thursday, and by appointment


RELATED EVENTS: Artist talk/demonstration on barrel firing and gumoil printing, 12-1 p.m. Wednesday, Room N-109, Fine Arts Building; talk by poet and author Paul Pines, “Reflections in a Smoking Mirror: The Aztec/Maya in and Through Time,” 12:30-2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, College Theater. Both events are free.

MORE INFO: 736-3622,

Q: Tell me about your first trip to a Mayan ruin, to Mexico’s Chichen-Itza in 1986.

A: We took a trip to it in a VW bus, which is the way they did it back then. I just went out there and I photographed. I was amazed by the culture. In 2000, when we went to our second ruin, in Oaxaca, and a third ruin, that ignited the passion inside of me, and when I came back, and after looking at the stuff I photographed in 1986, I started making gum prints.

Q: How do you explain the advanced civilization of the ancient Maya?

A: There are theories that a superior race was here and disappeared. Or some spaceship came. That’s kind of cool to think about, but I think that they were thinkers. They had time, time to ponder, and they were very observant. They watched the stars, they watched the seasons, they observed animals. They were very much in tune with nature. They just watched and found that there was a rhythm to life, like music. They just started figuring it out little by little.

Q: On your website, you state that “nothing made in Mayan culture was random decoration.”

A: When at first you see these things, you are just amazed at the embellishments on everything. But as I’ve gone along, I’ve learned that their language is pictures. They were always speaking to the gods, to each other, or it was a homage to nature. At first I didn’t recognize it. I saw the patterns but I didn’t realize that the patterns had something to say.

Q: How many Mayan ruins have you and your husband visited?

A: We’ve gone to 14 ruins in four countries.

Q: Has learning about the Mayan culture influenced your spirituality?

A: This whole journey has not just been 12 years of making art. It’s also been a spiritual journey, a physical journey, because I’ve taken on other things that mesh with it, like yoga, like studying other religions, looking into different ways of seeing, thinking. Opening up. I did another project in-between called “Who Are You, Galway, New York?” What that did for me was brought about a lot of compassion in my life. Because I started to be with elders and learned what they had to say. And that is absolutely what the Mayans are saying all the time: Let’s listen, because the elders have something to teach. And so it has been a journey, an opening inside, besides what has come outside through my hands.

Q: On your website, there’s a link to motorcycle racing. What’s that about?

A: My husband started racing motorcycles first, about 1996. They’re vintage motorcycles. I would go along and just support him. He bought me a motorcycle and refurbished it. And I had always teased him that I didn’t want to start until I was 50. So that’s about when I started.

Q: Is there a connection between your motorcycle racing and your artwork?

A: It has actually influenced me as an artist. Because when you’re on a race track, if you aren’t completely there, in the moment, with total focus and awareness of everything that’s going on around you at the same time, one mistake and you’re down. I’ve been able to use that and bring that over into my art.

Q: What kind of cycle do you race?

A: It’s a 1972 Triumph Daytona, and it has 500 CCs. I belong to a class that is historic production, which means you try and keep it as stock as you can be. We do it around the country. They call them road courses. So they don’t go around in a circle. They are all paved, and they are anywhere from two miles to four miles, one time around. You’re going left and right, on straight-aways, and you’re going as fast as you can. For me, on my motorcycle, I think the top speed I get is 90 miles per hour.

Q: Are you in a female category?

A: No, females and males.

Q: In 2009, you had a racing accident?

A: Three bikes, and I was the meat in the sandwich. I flipped the bike over and landed on the ground. I was unconscious for four minutes. I had a chip in the back of my shoulder and my leg was really swelled up. I bruised it really bad.

Q: And you worked on the Pretty Ladies, the female figures, while you recovered?

A: It [the accident] blew up my leg to three times its size. I thought to myself: now, I know how to do Pretty Ladies. All the ladies have big hips and thighs. I just started getting the clay out. They became my therapy. I started by making 15; I ended up making 51 of them. I worked the trauma out through clay, through my hands.

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