Local artist finds inspiration for “Benny the Cat” in vintage market

Benny the Cat is the subject of West Plaza resident Julie Tenenbaum’s stitched artworks. Benny started out as just a face, but in the past several years, we’ve been seeing Benny in all kinds of environments. Tenenbaum says she would be stitching Benny even if no one besides her husband ever saw him, but it’s great to be able to show him off at Midtown venues.

Julie Tenenbaum calls herself a “late bloomer” when it comes to her embroidery work. She was, she says, “well into my fifties when I began to create with needle and thread.” Now she’s constantly busy creating new “Bennies,” stitched canvases showing the cat engaged in various activities, and she’s constantly looking for new places Benny can be seen by others.

It all began at Urban Mining Homewares, a vintage market at 3923 Main. Tenenbaum saw a cat face on a piece of pottery, and it spoke to her. She sketched the cat on paper, and a few months later, when she took up embroidery, she decided to embroider the face. The face became a whole cat, and the Benny series began. Tenenbaum has been stitching Bennies ever since.

The inspiration.

“I didn’t even buy the pot, but that face got me started,” she says. “It gives me such joy to play with him.” (By the way, she eventually went back to Urban Mining Homewares and bought the pot.) Benny has evolved. He lost his whiskers. He started appearing in full scenes, like in a bathtub or in an easy chair with his books. Then a friend suggested that Tenenbaum needed to share Benny with the world.

Benny’s first show was at a church in North Kansas City. Since then the growing collection of Bennies has hung in coffee shops, cafés and other venues in Westport and beyond.  Tenenbaum says she’s glad he’s getting out into the world. “People have said they are inspired by Benny. They think he’s very colorful and fun. They’re impressed by the details, and he brings back memories of a mom who did embroidery or a grandmother who used to quilt.”

As Benny makes the rounds, Tenenbaum is looking into licensing him and sharing him with an even larger world. He could show up on mugs, t-shirts and elsewhere. But in the meantime, Tenenbaum enjoys seeing Benny at shows like the current one at Simply Breakfast in Westport.

“I love sitting in a coffeehouse and seeing someone go up and look at my work,” she says. “If I’m with a friend, sometimes they’ll say ‘This is the artist,” and it’s a little embarrassing, but it’s nice.”

To see all the Bennies and Tenenbaum’s other works, visit her website, CatStitchStudio.com.

Comments are closed.