Houston folk artist Kiki Neumann’s passions are forever fluid, and their most recent evolution has embraced politics—an activity that has consumed almost as much of her life as art has. This fall, expect to see her craft on display in unique get-out-the-vote signs at homes and businesses throughout the city, and maybe beyond.
“After years of creating all kinds of art, I would like to focus on creating things to inspire others to get involved for change,” Neumann says. “That’s more important than monetary pursuits. I am at that wonderful stage in life where I can give in a creative way.”
The native Houstonian’s creative path took her from Lamar High School, where she first realized her artistic ambitions, to the University of New Mexico for a liberal-arts degree—along with stops at the University of Houston to study archeology, Austin Community College to learn offset printing, and the University of Texas at Austin for even more art study.
Politics caught the fledgling artist’s attention in 1972 when she worked for Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby. She met several Texas female political legends like Sarah Weddington, Sissy Farenthold, and Barbara Jordan at rallies and marches in Houston and Austin. Even as they inspired her to get more involved in politics, Neumann knew that art would continue to be her medium of expression as she supported LGBTQ political and cultural groups by producing their fliers, tickets, calendars, and other advertising.
For 17 years, Neumann held a corporate job as a sales representative for Houston’s largest commercial paper distributor, Unisource. Although that position gave her financial stability, she decided to leave that profession and turn her full-time attention to her art. She bought a warehouse near downtown Houston and created a unique recycled-art studio, using cast-off wood from construction and demolition sites for her creations. She embellished tables, chairs, and other found objects, and even used 2,000 yardsticks to fabricate unique mirrors and tabletops. Her home and garden items were sold in retail stores and art shows.
Her interest in unique signage projects began when she repurposed a stockpile of old signs to create signage for 15 buildings across Houston, including the Houston Green Building Center.
As Neumann started collecting old license plates, she discovered they were an easy medium to cut and shape into useful items such as clipboards, angel wings, and magnets. Then she began photographing the license plates to create funky graphic images for greeting cards, banners, and yard signs. She has tens of thousands of old license plates stored in her studio warehouse for use in her designs. “I have made thousands of items in my 25 years of work, and they are as diverse as this wonderfully diverse LGBTQ community I live in.”
Her license-plate images have morphed into a full line of greeting cards that are now carried in stores throughout Texas. Eight years of success with original note cards is especially impressive in an age when traditional mailed greeting cards are losing ground to online messages.
Neumann came out as a lesbian 50 years ago, so her work as an artist has always run in parallel with her activism. She marched in Houston’s first mass-protest rally against singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant in 1977, and she demonstrated to demand better health care for local gay men (many of whom were her friends) during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. She also served on the board of Lesbians in Business. “I worked to get the vote out, and I was part of almost every gay group in this city that staged musical, political, and cultural events.”
As a breast-cancer survivor, Neumann enjoys donating art to fundraisers for the Lesbian Health Initiative. An early free mammogram she received from that group alerted her to a life-threatening health condition. “That group saved my life with their outreach to the community.”
The artist’s latest creative tangent with political signs arose from her 2020 efforts to encourage a strong voter turnout in the face of a raging pandemic. She contacted her City Council representative Karla Cisneros and volunteered to create yard signs that simply said Vote. “I knew we needed to get out the vote in many parts of Houston where people are not registered. Together, we got a few thousand yard signs into folks’ yards before the 2020 presidential election. I think it was a huge success, as I still see them up in yards.”
Now, Neumann is hoping her sign project will help turn out the vote for the 2022 midterm elections. She is offering two designs to motivate people to action: Vote and Vote With Pride. The colorful signs echo her signature technique with recycled license plates to spell out messages. Her Facebook page “Vote With Pride Yard Signs” is letting her new and old fans know when the eye-catching signs will be available at local events for a small donation. “They are good for any election, as they are bright and cheerfully remind people to get out there and register to vote.”
Neumann’s sign project grew out of her deep desire to help create a better world, and she is funding it herself until she can find an angel investor. Like all creative people, she is protective of her work, but she believes the need for change in the world is more important than profit. “Other people are welcome to use my designs if they wish. This is one kind of original creation that I would be glad and honored if people copied it.”
Although it’s too early to know if her yard-sign art will help qualified candidates get elected next year, Neumann is pleased that all of her projects reflect her passion for promoting social justice and the good of the community. “It’s always behind everything I do.”
For more information on Kiki Neumann’s political yard signs, visit tinyurl.com/pb4ka3j7.
This article appears in the July 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.