For the last six years, largely in secret, artist Cassia Kite has devoted her time to the creation of a project she calls soundstitches, but it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say it’s something she’s been building toward her entire life. And this summer, the artist returns home to Nebraska for a pair of exhibitions paying tribute to the place that started it all. There have been opportunities to show the new work in Sarasota, Kite says, and portions have been displayed, but for the big reveal it had to be Nebraska. “It’s full circle,” she says. “I wanted to do it the best way for my own self, for my family and for the people who supported me through all those years of growth necessary to make me who I am.”

Photo 1


To watch Kite work, the soundstitching process seems to begin with a photograph. From the photograph she drafts a simplified line drawing, which will in turn serve as the basis for an image hand-stitched in colored thread—each step an interpretation further distilling the subject into key components, first of line then of color. Reading the stitched portrait from left to right, top to bottom, the blocks of color correspond to a musical scale of Kite’s own design, culminating in a musical piece read and composed from the object’s visual identity. But to understand Kite’s work, the process begins with a memory, and most of hers live in Nebraska, in the farmhouses and landmarks where she grew up. “I’m deeply rooted there,” she says,” and all of my work is a personal narrative.”

Photo 2

Returning to Nebraska in June, Kite kicked off her triumphant return with a month-long solo exhibition in Brownville, one of Nebraska’s oldest towns, in the Schoolhouse Art Gallery. It’s fitting, she says, as the old schoolhouse used to sit in the even smaller town of Lehr, Nebraska, on her old running route back home in Auburn, Nebraska, a scant 15 miles away. These are the memories that feed Kite, and in the array of two dozen paintings, drawings, prints and soundstitches on display, one finds everything from celebrated Nebraskan institutions like the Flatwork Folk Art Museum to childhood monuments like the old Kite farmhouse and even the Schoolhouse Art Gallery itself. Through soundstitching, each creates its own site-specific melody, and thanks to a local violinist, exhibition-goers had the chance to hear the pieces performed. But to truly hear the music, one must move beyond process. “They need to know the history behind the object,” says Kite, and with the Aurasma app, visitors can use their phones to view a short video detailing Kite’s connection and the atmosphere behind the inspiration. She demands no particular instrument or time signature for those who play her soundstitches, but only asks that the musician stay true to the spirit of the place. “The Kite House can’t be angry,” she says.

Photo 3


And though soundstitches were conceived in private, Kite isn’t precious about her process, staging two workshops (one for children and one for adults) and inviting fellow Nebraskans to bring photographs and instruments, to learn how to create their own soundstitches and to hear the particular melody of their memories. Will Nebraska become the center of a new soundstitching craze? Maybe not, but Kite’s motivation through these workshops is not so particular. Attendees may not pick up soundstitching per se, but they get a taste of the wide world of interdisciplinary exploration and how the arts enhance each other. “With this project,” she says, “there are no rules.”

Photo 4

In that spirit, Kite takes soundstitching to the next level this month at the Omaha Under The Radar festival, where she will not only exhibit her work yet again, but hear it interpreted by festival musicians and even turned into a modern dance by the women of TBD Dance Collective—something Kite had not planned or seen coming. “It’s been an amazing process and I feel so honored to be a part of this,” she says. “The people involved are at the highest point of experimentation with their work and I’m going to learn so much.” Running July 5–8, the festival will see Kite manning her own booth and introducing festival-goers to the concept of soundstitching, while in the Kaneko building (known, says Kite, as “an open space for an open mind.”) the various soundstitches will be performed by visiting musicians of all sorts. “I’m very humbled to be able to go back to where that creativity started,” she says. “I wanted to pay homage to my home, and it’s the respect that I get give to where I’m from that satisfies me.”

But that doesn’t mean Kite isn’t looking to the work still left to be done in Sarasota. Maybe it’s catharsis, maybe it’s just the steady march of time, but after spending so much time looking backward, Kite’s ready to turn her gaze forward and see what this next stage of life brings to her art, in a place where she’s found a family and a new home. “The Nebraska shows are very important to me,” she says, “but I’ve been here [in Sarasota] since 2006, I’ve got 10 years of stuff to work with and it’s time to reach into those sandy roots.”