Katerina Kyselica was born in Karvina in northern Moravia and grew up in the city of Havířov. Her parents, Ladislav and Marcela, now retired, worked as a technician and a nurse while Katerina and her younger brother, Robert, were growing up. Katerina began swimming at the age of six and, when she was 14, was selected to attend a sports school. She moved to Prague where she boarded with other athletes and traveled outside the country for competitions. Katerina graduated from high school and says that although she was interested in architecture, she did not have the technical skills and knowledge to study the subject at university. She instead entered law school at Charles University in Prague. Katerina learned English during her years at law school and, in order to improve her language skills, spent one summer working as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp in Kentucky – an experience which she calls ‘fantastic.’ After graduating, Katerina worked in the tax and legal department for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Prague for about five years and then decided to move to the United States to join her husband, an American whom she had met during her summer abroad. She arrived in Richmond, Virginia, on December 31, 2001.
Katerina says that the decision to abandon her law career upon her arrival in the United States was ‘an easy choice.’ She took drawing classes and, after a conversation with an art professor, decided to go back to school. She attended the art school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and majored in interior design. She quickly found a job at a large firm specializing in the design and architecture of airports and hospitals. Katerina then moved to the Washington, D.C. area and worked for a number of years for FOX Architects. She says that her experience in the legal profession came in handy while working there, as many of her projects involved law offices. Katerina moved to New York City in 2009, after she and her husband divorced. She now freelances as an interior designer and project manager. Katerina has also started a project called dob2010 which aims to promote Czech design and architecture in the United States and to connect people of Czech and Slovak heritage interested in these topics. She currently serves on the advisory board of the Czech Center in New York. Katerina travels back to the Czech Republic each year to visit friends and family and says that she is content with having two homes.
“Swimming was something I grew up with. I started swimming when I was six or seven years old, so by ten I started having success within the Czechoslovak Republic at the time and that’s why I was picked to be recruited for the sports school in Prague. Swimming was fun. As a child, you pursue this differently. It’s not as a drill, although when I was nine or ten years old, I started swimming in the morning before school. So you get up at 5:00 in the morning; 6:00 you are in the cold water; 8:00 you are in school; 2:00 you’re back in the pool ‘till 4:00 or 5:00; you get back home at 6:00 and do your homework and then you have to go to sleep because you will get up at 5:00. But that was life. It was fun because you swam with a group of people you grew up with. And then we traveled a lot. Every weekend for the meets, and when I moved to Prague, it became more serious in the way that we traveled also outside the country. That was during communism, which was rare for some people, but because it was part of my life, it was something natural. I didn’t realize it was rare for other people. So I had a chance to travel. I remember not everything, but we went to Moscow and Vilnius. So it was interesting. Also to Germany. There were international meets so we met people from other countries.”
Unsure of Studies
“For instance, in the architecture field, I was supposed to already be very good in drawing. In order to get into architecture school, I would have to be excellent in drawing to compete with hundreds of applicants at the time. In addition, very good in mathematics and things like that. So I didn’t even try that. But then I wanted to be a journalist. I did apply to go to the school of journalism, but I had no chance. At the time, I had not such a knowledge. Again, the tests were quite difficult and I didn’t have the broad knowledge to pass that. So as a result, I went to law school because I’ve always loved history. I graduated from law school; I worked in a very good firm, but there was something missing. After a few years in practice, I realized that I preferred to create something. Instead of helping someone to go over contracts and work with numbers, I preferred to create.”
“While I was in law school, where I learned English, I was looking for a chance to practice the language somewhere, and I found this agency that was looking for counselors for summer camps. I do not remember the year, but I ended up in Kentucky and I became a camp counselor in a Girl Scout camp. That was a fantastic experience because I was raising the flag. It was my first time in the U.S.”
“When I was in art school here, during art history classes, I was sad not to hear anything about Czech culture, or whatever Czech culture is – Czechoslovakian culture, Bohemian culture. The artists and architects that I knew did the movements that happened in the 1920s and 1930s that are important in the European context, and that are not known or not taught on a general level here. I graduated, life was busy, and when I moved here two years ago, to New York City, it just happened that I was so close to Bohemian National Hall. I started meeting people, Czech and Slovak immigrants, and I became more interested in knowing why what we built so far is not visible and how to make it visible by writing about it. Writing not only about past success, but also about what’s happening now. Contemporary architecture, contemporary design for instance. Very high quality things were happening one hundred years ago in that region and it’s not known really much.
“So I am on a journey, in a way, to make it visible; to promote it in the U.S. Not only as a way to promote the Czech culture, but also to connect with Czech and Slovak people, immigrants, their daughters, the first, the second, the third generation, Americans who come from that region – not only from Czech Republic, Slovakia, but Poland, and sort of connect somehow and see what we are doing here, because there are designers here; there are artists. In Canada, too. In Toronto there’s a big community. So there is technology today that can connect us and get us closer and use that network for visibility. To show to our neighbors where we are coming from.”
“Before he died, I met Jiří Kárnet, a Czechoslovak journalist and playwright who lived here in New York City, and I had this chance to meet him, visit him twice or three times before he died. In his last book he published – not that he wrote it as his last book, but he published it the same year he died. It was called Posmrtný deník – he wrote about his relationship to Czechoslovakia as his homeland and trying to justify his love for his new home. Not to justify, to explain it. He said that the way the son has a mother and he leaves his mother for his wife, the same he has two loves for his two homes, for Czechoslovakia and America, and he doesn’t have to choose. And I took it personally in a way, and I always think about that when I think about him because that helped me to resolve some of the tensions I sometimes had. You know, where is my home, where do I belong, what is my culture?”