As a Newfoundlander I see a small and fragile culture that is threatened. Other voices easily drown ours. We stand constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by the slick of urban culture flowing toward us from mainland North America. My drawings are a way, one way, of stating who we are and where we have come from. A Newfoundland woman's art based on a Newfoundland woman's traditional craft.
Excerpt from artist statement in The Sparrow's House exhibition publication, organized by Memorial University Art Gallery, 1991.
Kathleen Knowling was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1927. Knowling studied art history and earned a bachelor of arts with a major in history in 1950 from Columbia University, New York City. She spent the following two years in Paris, studying museum collections to expand her practical studies in fine art.
After she married in 1959, her ambition to become an artist was put aside in favour of raising her three children. In 1975 Knowling returned to art making and began exhibiting her work professionally in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia.
Knowling continued to study art, attending reputable institutions such as Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Newfoundland Academy of Art, Mount Allison University and Memorial University's Extension Service. Initially she worked with watercolour but her preference has since turned to oilsticks and coloured pencils.
Knowling is best-known for her Hooked Mats series which exhibits a strong sense of indigenous history encompassing the art and craft of Newfoundland women. The pieces are created using oilstick and coloured pencil on watercolour paper that has been coated with black acrylic paint. The series was inspired by the designs of hooked mats crafted by Newfoundland outport women, a tradition that continues today. In 1991 the Memorial University Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador) held a successful exhibition of Knowlings mixed media versions of traditional hooked mats, titled The Sparrows House.
Knowling has been active in the community through the St. John's chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women; the Newfoundland Grenfell Association; the Canadian Artists Representation Newfoundland and Labrador; and Eastern Edge Gallery, a St. John's artist-run centre.
Knowling has taught art history for Memorial University's Extension Service and has conducted bookmaking workshops in Labrador and at the Eastern Edge Gallery. She has curated exhibitions and written art reviews and poetry.
Her artwork is part of private and public collections including that of the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's Permanent Collection, The Canada Council Art Bank, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Department of Foreign Affairs
Knowling continues to live and work in St. John's