Kay Henkel's Sculptures Reflect Her Homeless Days

Her book chronicles those early days that continue to inspire her work



Sculptor Kay Henkel's clients have included Lucille Ball, Sonny Bono, and Gene Hackman, a far cry from her penniless days in Rio de Janiero.

Photo by Marcia Gawecki

 

Her small and large sculptures fill the living room like a festive family gathering.

In one corner, a mother cradles a sleeping baby, while a young girl sits on a swing nearby. In another corner, three boys are playing baseball.

In the middle of it all, a raggedly elderly woman opens an empty purse.

“I’ve always been drawn to homeless people,” artist Kay Henkel admits. “I think it’s because I was homeless once.”

It’s hard to imagine that this regal-looking renowned sculptor of large-scale portraits in bronze, clay and duracast, was once penniless. Among her clients are Hollywood celebrities, including Candace Bergen, Gene Hackman, Lucille Ball, Sonny Bono and Sidney Sheldon.

So when the Desert Arts Center (DAC) announced Henkel’s book signing/educational fundraiser May 2, most thought it would showcase her sculptures.

“That would really be a boring book,” Henkel says, laughing.

Henkel’s “Rooftops & Shoestrings” book signing/education fundraiser will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the DAC in Palm Springs.

 

VIDEO: Kay Henkel describes the concepts behind her sculpture pieces.

 

Instead, “Rooftops & Shoestrings,” tells the remarkable story of how the young Henkels sold everything to accept an import/export job in Rio de Janeiro only to discover that the company had gone kaput.

They were immediately thrown out of their hotel with just the clothes on their backs. They didn’t speak Portuguese nor have any job prospects.

However, as luck would have it, they met a friend of a friend from the boat who allowed them to secretly sleep on the floor of his office for months, only eating canned sardines.

“I can’t stand sardines,” Henkel says.

Henkel’s humor carries the story along from how they spent their first Christmas in the office with a discarded tree decorated with sardine lids to landing their first paying job.

All that time, Henkel kept a journal. It wasn’t a book then, but just a way to pass the time. The book took shape when Henkel realized that she wanted her four kids to know their story.

When they were young, she would write a chapter at a time. But then the book sat on the shelf for years, until recently when she met a book publisher at the pool.

The story is good reading, with humor, adventure, intrigue and romance.

“Basically, it’s a love story,” Henkel says.

Like the homeless she now sculpts, Henkel learned to pilfer uneaten hard rolls from cafes, but she never got used to getting pinched in elevators.

Today, Henkel’s most popular sculpture is called, “Elevator,” in which 20 individuals are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, talking on the phone, ogling women, pick pocketing, and poking one other. The overall image tells a story.

Like what you're reading? Then "Like" us on Facebook and "follow" us on Twitter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Desert Guide
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Coachella Valley is an Art Lover’s Paradise

Framed by pastel-colored mountain ranges and illuminated in clear sunshine, the Coachella Valley is a natural showcase for art in every form.

Big City Ranchers Come to High Desert Terrain

When you spend a day with Rimrock Ranch owner Jim Austin, there is never a dull moment as you experience this part house, part rental, and part performance venue just north of Pioneertown.

Cool High Desert Offers Golf, Total Escape Package From Palm Springs Sizzle

A quick and easy visit to the High Desert just 30 minutes outside of the Greater Palm Springs area lessens the temperatures by about 15 degrees while providing entertaining golf, accommodations, music, and food.

Homestead Modern Taps Into Cabin Retreat and High Desert Lifestyle

Dave McAdam of Homestead Modern is banking on the current wave of baby boomers who want to recapture the homesteader wave of 50 years ago in the high desert area north of Palm Springs.

Flower Power

Daisy Lowe struts effortlessly across the sandy terrain at a Coachella Valley wind farm like a desert-born creature, in perfect rhythm and harmony with the magical, wild environment.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

McCallum Theatre Broadway Blockbusters Experience!

McCallum Theatre Broadway Blockbusters Experience!

Enter just once for a chance to win tickets to one of the four 2015-2016 Broadway Blockbusters Series shows.
Romantic Palm Springs Getaway

Romantic Palm Springs Getaway

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couples getaway
GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Edit ModuleShow Tags