Local artist loans prized work to U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka.

Stretched out on the red shag carpet of her childhood family room, Kelly Scudieri recalls the record player, being surrounded by art supplies, and sketching with her brother and her dad. This memory produces a wide smile and the recognition that Kelly cannot recall a time when she didn’t make art.

As we now sit in her present-day living room, surrounded by warm colors and furnishings, candles, and her more recent pieces, she reflects on the journey that’s lead to her current accomplishment—joining over 20,000 participants who have shared their work with the U.S. Art in Embassy’s program since its inception in 1953.

Scudieri speaks humbly about the message she received last fall that opened a whole new dimension of exposure to her unique and soulful art. Alaina Teplitz, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, along with her husband Robert, were in the area for a training. While dining one evening in Shepherdstown, they noticed Kelly’s painting, “Gravity,” saw her business card, and immediately reached out. Robert wrote: “We loved your work that is on display at the restaurant, Domestic. The State Department has a program where they borrow your art and display it abroad for the world to see. I’d love to give them your contact info, if that’s okay.”

Scudieri describes her initial reaction as one of disbelief with a small side of skepticism. Within ten days, however, she received a message from the curator of the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program. Now, “Gravity” is on its way to the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka for a three-year loan with the possibility of extension and/or purchase.

Capturing Community

In 1953, the Museum of Modern Art developed a vision and formed an international council to showcase American art with the intent of promoting diplomacy through the universal communication of creative expression. In 1963, President John F.  Kennedy formally established the Art in Embassies program within the State Department. This exchange has enabled a broader scope for visionaries and creators to share with and learn from other artists across the globe—to build bridges of relationship, mutual support, and impact through the language of visual arts.

From Scudieri’s description of the symbolism that informed the imagery in “Gravity,” it becomes clear to me why this piece was meant for inclusion in a cultural exchange. She embodied her figures to demonstrate the wisdom of when to fight and when to float—knowing the time to ground in power and the time to flow with the currents for insight and survival. Many of Scudieri’s paintings have elements of animal totems—particularly birds, as well as references to other energies and elements like chakras or fossils. In “Gravity,” there is a jellyfish, explained by Scudieri: “The jellyfish has always fascinated me. They are a symbol of protection, but also caution. They symbolize flow, faith, trust, and inner strength. Though fragile at first glance, they possess secret weapons. They move easily through the sea based on currents and winds. They remind us about the natural flow of life.”

Scudieri’s artwork has been capturing the eyes, imaginations, and support of local community members for decades. Early on in her journey, she had friends who would support her by bringing her supplies like old window panes and bits of wood that she would paint on. In 1996, she had her first show at a community supported arts cooperative called The Epicenter. Her second show took place in 2003, where she partnered with local photographer Hali Taylor at the Entler Hotel (Shepherdstown). Scudieri had 22 pieces in that show—all of which sold. She revealed, “I went home in shock, and I’ve been going for it ever since. Art is not something I do, it’s something I live.”

High Esteem

Additional shows have taken place over the years at The Bridge Gallery in Shepherdstown, and the Morgan Art’s Council’s Ice House Gallery in Berkeley Springs (WV). You will also find Scudieri’s work on display in several local businesses, including popular Shepherdstown restaurants Domestic and Bistro 112, within fine beverage and food items shop Grapes and Grains Gourmet, as well as across the river in Sharpsburg (MD) at Gifts Inn Boonsboro—owned by local author and philanthropist, Nora Roberts.

When asked recently about her impressions of Scudieri’s work, Roberts stated, “Kelly Scudieri’s women pull at me, charm me, and intrigue me every single time. The tilt of a head or the powerful feminine stance paired with fathoms-deep eyes inevitably lure me in. When they do, I recognize a kindred spirit on canvas. I find the vivid colors and bold textures and the utter female vibe from Kelly’s work irresistible. It’s rare that I come across her women in Gifts Inn Boonsboro without claiming one for my own.”

Scudieri at work in her home studio.

Another frequent patron of Scudieri’s work, Allie Casserley, speaks to the personal impact of her connection to the artist and her work, emphasizing, “Kelly is unique in her extraordinary talent and as a special human being. She is always unassuming and humble about her artistic ability and contribution to the community, but Kelly is undoubtedly held in very high esteem by a great following. If I had my way, my house would be full of her paintings from top to bottom. More than anything, I value her friendship.”

Similarly, Cheryl Gallery, owner of the aforementioned Grapes and Grains Gourmet, feels that Kelly is the kind of person who epitomizes the heartbeat of a community. Gallery shared the memory of Scudieri coming into her previously owned business, Riverbend Designs, back when she was forming connections in the local business community to help display and sell her art. Gallery recalled a painting of an old window pane that was “magical, colorful, and beautiful … so well done.” Gallery’s son fell in love with it and she bought it for him—the first of many Scudieri pieces that would work their way into her heart and her home.

Kelly’s impact hits closest to home in the hearts of her husband Scooter and their daughter Sophia—also artists and local musicians. When asked what it’s like to be in a family of artists, Scooter focuses on how they encourage each other to step out of their comfort zone and create all the time. “It’s fortunate to navigate the myriad obstacles life throws at you and still do art,” he noted.

Sophia also shared her appreciation, recognizing that they “… are different from other families—grateful to have and learn from one another, to thrive off one another’s energy. Plus, I knew mom would be internationally known one day!”

For more information about Kelly Scudieri’s art, or the Art in Embassies program, visit: www.kizzerk.com or www.art.state.gov. Giclée prints of “Gravity” are available for purchase. You can also follow “Kelly Scudieri” on Facebook and Instagram.

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