Wheel of Life by Karen Clarkson- Choctaw

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Karen first started drawing using images from Edward Curtis’ photography from the late 1800’s. She taught herself technique by looking to the past and bringing out her voice using a realistic approach to portraiture. Even as a young child Karen would draw people on any blank piece of paper she could find. A story she often tells was when she was very young and drew a stick figure in her mother’s treasured leather bound bible. “I would draw in school all the time (especially when I wasn’t supposed to) and often had to stay after school when I was caught. I really think I was trying to discover something about myself by identifying with my subject. Even though my mother is gone I still have the bible. It is a constant reminder to me of my early obsession with drawing.”

Currently Karen (who is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) has completed a portrait series entitled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood”. This ethnographic series uses her own family records of birth, land allotment and marriage documents to illustrate the history of the Choctaw in 1800 Indian Territory. This 20 piece series recently exhibited at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff. Karen has also recently completed a trio of illustrations depicting  the Choctaw creation story “Nanih Waiya” for the Museum of Mississippi History’s permanent collection. Her work is included in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Museum she has won many awards including three Best of Shows and the People’s Choice. 

Karen has always believed in the importance of encouraging young children to draw and appreciate art. A few years ago this prompted her to illustrate a children’s book written by Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle, awarding her Children’s Book American Indian Youth Literature Award for the Picture Book Category in 2011, as well as four other book awards. “When I was a young child I could not get enough of lavishly illustrated storybooks. I still have them today.”

Today Karen resides in the artistic community of Prescott Arizona where she has found many kindred souls who have encouraged her to push her art as far as it can go. “It has become increasingly important for me to show the history of my people in ways an audience can understand and appreciate.  The art I create is historical but it is also evolving. Native art is alive and expanding. We are in a world of new horizons with ever changing challenges and vision. Thank you for being a part of it.”