Jeneé Osterheldt

Rising out of the brambles: Art show shines light on Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Kelly Porter created “Dancing” as part of her exhibit “Blankets and Brambles” for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Kelly Porter created “Dancing” as part of her exhibit “Blankets and Brambles” for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The painting stops me mid-walk into the art gallery. It’s both flowery and fiery — red, black and gold.

I feel bold and strong and, strangely, a little vulnerable as I get lost in an artsy trance. It’s as if these golden flowers are blooming out of fire and coals, beauty born of struggle.

The painting, titled “Dancing,” is part of Kelly Porter’s “Blankets and Brambles” exhibition at Blue Gallery in the Crossroads this month. Blankets bring warmth, comfort and protection. Brambles are the thorny, prickly shrubs we clear away. They hurt. As you take in each work it is clear that Kelly has poured emotions — and personal experience — into her palette.

Some works look botanical, others microscopic. They all have a dark beauty about them. Kelly, co-owner of Porter Teleo, an acclaimed line of hand-printed, hand-painted wall coverings and fabrics, draws inspiration from nature and science. When you look under a microscope, she says, even anthrax and pneumonia look like beautiful flowers and colorful forms.

“Everyone has hardship,” says Kelly, 41. “It comes in all different forms, whether through illness or pain or other suffering. And the work I do is really focused on the recovery, the celebration, being grateful and showing how we can find joy in creating and recovering, in that process.”

Thirty percent of the proceeds from “Blanket and Brambles” will benefit Rose Brooks Center, a Kansas City domestic violence shelter. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Kelly wanted to use her work to shine a spotlight on the problem.

In Kansas City, police respond to about 15 domestic violence calls a day. About half of them are assessed as high danger. Through emergency shelter, support services and prevention education, Rose Brooks helps change 15,000 lives a year.

“We save lives, literally and figuratively,” says Marla Svoboda, chief development officer of Rose Brooks. “We thrive on support. Kelly’s generosity helps us continue to do the work we do. We see people from every walk of life, every single day. None of us are immune to domestic violence — 15,000 is a number. But it could be me, it could be you.”

It was Kelly. She herself is a survivor. And Rose Brooks helped her to not only stay safe, but to recover and thrive.

When domestic violence strikes, outsiders want to know what happened, why it happened. They look for ways they can distance themselves. Even loved ones try to rationalize it. They look for a reason: What brought this on? People who have been abused often blame themselves.

“It took me over three years of hearing it wasn’t my fault before I actually believed that,” Kelly says. “And that’s a long time of being very proactive and productive in trying to rehabilitate.”

When she started working on “Blankets and Brambles,” she didn’t have an agenda. She was just working from the studio basement in her home.

“It’s the most comfortable space I have ever worked,” she says. “It’s full of love. It’s a wonderful place to be raising two daughters. I work from life experience, personal experience. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life so far. I’m extremely fortunate to have tons of things to celebrate, but some of those things have been horrific. And it all adds the small nuances to the big picture of life.”

When Kelly told the crowd at her opening that she was a Rose Brooks client, more than a dozen women wanted to share their stories with her. Five women came up to Marla that night.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” Kelly says. “But unless people do talk about it, unless they open up and stand up tall, they are going to be hiding from the people that did that to them and hiding from the general concept of people not understanding.”

This is a country that stifles the voice of the abused. Rather than listen to their stories, we turn them into salacious details. Over the weekend Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes drove to the home of his estranged wife, Gloria Govan, a woman he’s allegedly abused. Some say he fought her friend, New York Knicks Coach Derek Fisher. Details are unfolding, but sports reporters reduced it to a joke.

Rihanna, no matter how her confidence grows and her music thrives, is haunted by that image of her face beat blue and purple in 2009. Last year her performance was pulled from the “Thursday Night Football” broadcast because footage leaked of running back Ray Rice knocking out his wife in an elevator and the NFL apparently thought she would draw more attention to its own problems.

“Well, I just never understood that,” Rihanna recently told Vanity Fair, “like how the victim gets punished over and over.”

We focus on the tragedy and the abusers, not support and rehabilitation. We lose sight of the roses that grow from concrete.

It’s why Kelly’s flowers dance through the fire. She is a survivor. And rather than get stuck in the flames, we should celebrate the recovery. Bloom.

Get help

Do you or someone you know need help? Make the call:

▪ Rose Brooks Center: 816-861-6100

▪ Safehome: 913-262-2868

▪ Hope House: 816-461-4673

▪ Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault: 816-531-0233 or 913-642-0233

▪ Kansas City Anti-Violence Project: 816-561-0550 (help line for LGBTQ community)

▪ National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

▪ “Blankets and Brambles” shows at Blue Gallery, 118 Southwest Blvd., through Oct. 31. Thirty percent of the proceeds benefit Rose Brooks. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more events and ways to help, visit

▪ Safehome, Johnson’s County’s domestic violence agency, will host the Safehome 5K Run/Walk and Kids Fun Run at 8 a.m. Oct. 31 at South Creek Office Park, 7200 W. 132nd St. in Overland Park. Registration is $15 to $40. For more information, visit