Work of the Week – Sculpted Form by Karen Karnes

Monday, April 11, 2016

by Parker Louise Bobbitt

This week’s Work of the Week is Untitled Sculpted Form by American ceramicist, Karen Karnes

2004.11.85More than any other quality, passion drives people towards success and greatness. It inspires individuals to dedicate their lives wherever their passion lies and impact the world.

Untitled Sculpted Form is a salt-glazed, stoneware ceramic that demonstrates Karnes’ skill, depth and innovation. This unique and organic form is comprised of three parts seamlessly molded together. Constructed with an ease that is rarely attained, Sculpted Form reveals the subtle poetic quality to Karnes’ work. While a respect for traditional techniques in ceramics is seen, her innovative perspective transforms the medium to result in an exceptionally compelling form that echos nature and alludes to spirituality.

Karen Karnes has approached her craft with an undeniable passion apparent to all who meet her. Guiding her throughout her career, this passion has translated into her work, resulting in understated, biomorphic ceramics that are recognized around the world. Speaking on her creative process, Karnes stated, The pots kind of grow from themselves–it’s a feeling. The forms will extend themselves–or contract. I feel my forms live in my body, on my breath.”

In 1925 Karen Karnes was born into a family of immigrant workers from Russia and Poland. Living in New York City, Karnes studied Bauhaus-inspired fashion while majoring in Design at Brooklyn College and later discovered her passion for pottery independently. Karnes began firing with salt without academic training during a time when ceramics was a male-dominated field. Karen and her then-husband David Weinrib were invited to teach in the ceramics program at Black Mountain College in 1952 where she became friends with Merce Cunningham, John Cage and other renowned artists residing at the school. While at Black Mountain College, Karnes sold her work as a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and taught at Penland School of Crafts. Karnes has lived on a farm in Vermont since 1983 with her partner, Ann Stannard and continues to make innovations in the field of ceramics.

Working in ceramics for over 60 years, Karen Karnes has become known as one of the most influential potters and has been recognized as “the Grandmother of American ceramics.” Generations of potters have been influenced by Karnes’ innovative techniques. Why have so many been inspired by Karnes? Her friend, Mikhail Zakin, stated “I have never known any artist who has lived her life and made her art with such integrity and with such a clear and unswerving sense of purpose.”

Karnes has impacted the world of ceramics through her unfaltering passion and dedication to her work. In 1998, when a fire destroyed her house and studio, the artist opened her kiln to her unharmed pottery and remarked, “Oh, they are just as I had hoped they would be.” Wholeheartedly committed to her art, Karnes is a visionary whose passion shows in her life as well as each of the the tens of thousands of pots she has created.

Artwork above: Karen Karnes, Untitled Sculpted Form, 2003, Stoneware, 8.5 x 7 x 5.38 inches . Museum purchase with funds provided by June and Vito Lenoci, Helga and Jack Beam and Pamela L. Myers in memory James Roy Moody. Black Mountain College Collection. 2004.11.85.