Brush with the law

Kathryn Schultz Norris, the police commissioner's wife, was an artist long before he came into the picture. A Fells Point show puts her back on the beat.

October 12, 2002|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

An article on artist Kathryn Schultz Norris in yesterday's Today section omitted information about an exhibition of her work in Fells Point. Her paintings are being shown at the Bismark/Wilson Gallery, 1760 Bank St., from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and Saturday. Information: 410- 675-8959.

She was working at Facconnable, the upscale men's clothing boutique in Manhattan. He'd come in to buy a tie, always a tie, so he could see her. When she was gone for a few months, out West to see a sick relative, he thought she quit.

One day, he saw her again and bought another tie. He had on a suit jacket, and he took it off to try on a vest. She saw his gun.

What, are you a detective or something?

Yeah, I thought you knew.

She had no idea who he was. The men in the store, in suits and ties, Wall Street types, were not the kind she dated. She was an artist, selling men's suits part-time to make ends meet. She thought, You must be the best-dressed police officer in the city. She asked him, "What's your name?"

"Eddie."

She was about to introduce herself when he spoke again.

"You're Kathryn, I know."

She is now Kathryn Schultz Norris, an artist.

He is Edward T. Norris, a cop.

Not long ago, he was third in command in Manhattan.

She was riding the subway wearing combat boots, black shirt and jeans, sometimes a baseball cap, to her painting studio in the furrier district.

Then he got the top job in Baltimore. She got a bodyguard.

It took a while, with a toddler, a new city, her first real house and a police shadow, but she's back painting, three days a week, in jeans, black shirt and bandanna.

"Be careful," she warns her husband one day when he stops into her Fells Point studio and helps her move a canvas. The painting might be wet, and he's wearing a suit. He's ruined suits before.

He's running behind schedule. There's the usual stuff, bioterrorism, drugs, security for a coming presidential visit. And the media are freaking out over the murder of two kids, he says. She nods, familiar with the morning's news.

"Have I seen this one before?" he asks, pointing to a large canvas.

Often the police commissioner finds his wife reworking a painting he really liked. Stop! Stop! he says. Don't paint over it! What did you do that for? Enough already.

But she won't stop - can't stop - until she gets to clarity.

The underpainting comes through when she paints a canvas over. The process is chaotic. Her canvases are large, 50 by 54, and she prefers to paint them hung from the wall. It's a very physical process, befitting somebody who played basketball for Stanford. There is paint on the floor, on the walls, a tuna can holding up one leg of the table that holds her palette.

There is always a small canvas on her easel at the same time she paints a large one. Moving between them gives her a diversion, a break, that allows her to think about the one left alone until, suddenly, she says, "Oh, that's where it needs to go."

There was a time when she questioned how she worked, when she wondered if the way she made art could be refined. Other artists she knew were more rigid. Day after day, she would look at her work and paint over it. It would take her longer to discover what it was she wanted to say, the meaning.

She doesn't fight it anymore. She has learned to be comfortable, to accept it as her way of solving problems. Only 10 days ago she added a new color to a small painting she thought was done, knowing it might not be dry by today, when her one-woman show opens in Fells Point. It's her coming out.

Her paintings evoke a place or feeling. Some have a checkered appearance, a feeling of texture. Others take form on a background of wide stripes. Somewhere there's a struggle - man-made vs. organic or structure vs. chaos. Her visual awareness was initiated through nature, hiking and camping during her youth in Northern California, where her father was in the lumber business. A just-finished canvas in blues and gray, titled Frolic, seems to move in and out like a dance. She relates it to being athletic.

Her work is subjective, not figurative, and that makes it more challenging than some people want in a painting.

When the police commissioner recently passed out invitations to her show - invitations that featured a detail from a finished painting - one of his staff approached him.

We're coming to the opening and, you know, my wife, she likes this stuff, the man said.

But, on the Q.T., do you?

Ties that bind

Seventy-dollar ties were all a cop could afford in a store where suits sold for $1,200. He asked his friends for money to buy some for them, too. Her friends stepped aside to let her wait on him. "Copper," the salespeople called him. Or, "That Tie Guy."

One day, when she was not at the store, he left her an NYPD raid hat with his business card and a note tucked inside: If you're ever in trouble, give me a call.

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