Career Photographer Has a Lucrative Nesting Instinct

Kathy Wolfe has a bird’s-eye view of nature photography.
Portrait by Clark Hodgin

Since she was a young child helping her father in his darkroom, through middle and high school shooting yearbook and newspaper pictures, working her way through college in a photo lab and a starting a business taking sorority portraits, not to mention her first post-college job on the road for a grueling year photographing hundreds of children a week for the Photo Corporation of America, Kathy Wolfe was in deep denial of her calling. “I always swore I was never going to do photography for a living,” she says with a laugh from her home perched on a hill in Hendersonville. “In college I majored in economics for no particular reason.”

After she quit the traveling-photographer job, she fled Houston to go home to San Diego. Which is when she finally embraced her craft. “I decided that since all signs pointed to being a photographer, I should get some kind of professional training.” A year-and-a-half later she had a degree in commercial advertising photography from the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, and not long after that she was offered a teaching position there. “And that’s how I landed in Atlanta for 30 years.”

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Wolfe made excellent use of her time — she taught, opened a commercial-photography studio, and started a wedding portrait business focused on black-and-white film.  “Then I got interested in the arts-festival circuit and started doing still-life subjects. I loved that world.”

She had a friend in Tryon she visited often, and on one trip to Hendersonville, she discovered Wickwire Gallery on Main Street, which agreed to represent her. In 2005, she also purchased her Hendersonville home, using it for weekend getaways until the recession and then renting it out full time.

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In Atlanta, Wolfe found three displaced birds’ nests in her yard and brought them into her studio, where, one day in 2015, they caught her eye and sparked inspiration. “I had gone through a lot of still-life subjects, and most were in warm tones. I needed a new subject matter in more neutral tones. I started photographing those nests and really saw them for the first time, the architecture and incredible detail. I got hooked.” 

When she discovered it was illegal to buy, sell, or remove a nest from its perch, she found colleagues who let her borrow their existing collections to shoot, then developed a multi-step technique transferring the images to wood. Nests have proven to be popular, particularly the ones with eggs. “People love blue eggs the most, and the occasional white egg, preferably not broken.”

New Life

Wolfe likes the oddly shaped nests best, and the ones with unusual items woven into twigs, like dental floss, masking tape, horsehair, cassette tape, and cellophane paper. “My favorite of all time is one a friend from Wisconsin sent me with beautiful feathers.”

In spring 2018, she was walking the Camino Primitivo in Spain and had a revelation that she should move to her home in Hendersonville full time, and that summer she did. “I love living here. Nature is always right outside my door.”

Kathy Wolfe, Hendersonville. The artist is represented by Artisans on Main (14 North Main St., Weaverville) and also works on commission. For more information, see kathywolfe.com or “Artisans on Main” on Facebook.

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