Cathie Anderson

Sacramento artist helps nonprofits make statement with artwork

Kerri Warner buys old books at sales and cuts them up with a mat-knife to get the pieces for her collages.
Kerri Warner buys old books at sales and cuts them up with a mat-knife to get the pieces for her collages.

Artist Kerri Warner is making small statements all around Sacramento, with both fine and functional art pieces that convey the mission of local nonprofits in ways that pique the imagination of passers-by.

Like many local artists, she does the work gratis, even while struggling to generate the kind of sales that would allow her to pursue her passion full time. Warner’s best-selling works are collages in which she uses snippets of paper from books and other sources to create figurative images, but in her work for nonprofits she’s repurposed everything from rebar to ceramic bowls.

Many locals may know Warner as a scion of the Wyman family, who for 17 years ran a community theater known as the JayRob Theatre in Sacramento. Or, they may have encountered her more recently through the Sacramento Ballet, where she was the executive director for about six years. She has also been a chief administrator for Hands On Sacramento and the California Conservation Corps Foundation. Nonprofits, she said, use their dollars to further their mission so they can’t easily commission public art that will enhance their campuses and convey the impact of their work.

Although she was an artist, a nonprofit leader and a frequent volunteer, she readily acknowledged that she wasn’t the one who saw how her talents could help bridge the gap in this area. It was Michael Smith, an executive with Teichert, who asked her to personalize a volunteer construction project for River City Food Bank in 2011.

“Kerri … met with the nonprofits and their executive directors, and she’s been able to bring their stories and their passions to life through her art,” Smith said. “It’s really enhanced what would normally be a tenant improvement.”

Warner’s work was done as part of the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Inspire Giving Fund, a giving circle that asks community members to make a one-time gift of $250 or more to become fund members. Warner is a founding member of the fund, and Smith is its committee chairman. All members get to vote on the nonprofit that will receive an annual gift. Past recipients have included River City Food Bank, Roberts Family Development Center and St. John’s Program for Real Change.

The 2015 recipient was just decided, Smith said, and it will be a construction project for the new headquarters of 916 Ink, a nonprofit that promotes literacy through creative writing workshops.

Tina Roberts, co-director of the Roberts center, said Warner visited and learned how the organization is trying to improve the lives of children around the region. For that project at 766 Darina Ave., Warner crafted metal cutouts of children jumping rope and then strung jump rope out of rebar to make a decorative fence for a picnic area. On the other side of the Roberts campus, at the garden entrance, she made a decorated gate out of old shovels and rebar. On the shovel blades, she crafted tile mosaics of flowers and plants growing.

“She spent time with the kids, and when you feel the energy of the kids, you really get it,” Roberts said. “She could take that and produced great artwork. I mean, it just beautifies our whole community, and for our kids we’re always trying to keep them involved in positive activities, and we want their environment to be positive and to look good.”

At River City Food Bank, Warner said, executive director Eileen Thomas inspired her with conceptual questions: “What is the face of hunger? What does that really look like in the community? The food bank was really trying to get the community to understand that it’s not just the downtrodden or homeless, it’s people like you and me who may have had a really bad year.”

Warner, 53, produced a series of faces in watercolor and color pencil and turned them into wooden paintings. They hang in the food bank’s lobby at 1800 28th St. She had volunteers smash up ceramic bowls from the nonprofit’s Empty Bowls fundraiser and fashion mosaics on planters. She designed and painted the front signage of colorful foodstuffs, which includes the organization’s mantra: “Because no one should be hungry.”

For St. John’s Plates 2 Go restaurant at 1725 L St., she created a floral design from pristine plates because the restaurant allows homeless women to train and acquire the work skills they’ll need to get a job: “The white plates represent a clean slate and a fresh start,” Warner said, “which I think is a great message that you don’t get from just looking at it. You have to know the back story.”

The collectors of Warner’s collages routinely pay $2,500 or more for her work, which hangs year-round at Christopher Holbrook’s Studio 333 at 333 Caledonia St. in Sausalito. Holbrook said he decided to carry Warner’s work because she so adroitly mixes media in her pieces.

“This week, I sold three pieces of her work to a client in Mill Valley,” he said. “A couple that just moved to Sausalito from the East Coast bought a piece called ‘Music’ and a couple others … Her work just gets your imagination going.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.