Karen Gunderson

KAY MURPHY NOLAN: Waukesha County Freeman: Woman’s Paintings Honor Former town of Pewaukee Pastor: Saturday December 28, 1991

A former pastor and well-know community activist from the town of Pewaukee has provided the inspiration for a series of paintings by New York artist Karen Gunderson. 

Gunderson, 48, recently created three paintings as a tribute to the late Rev. Leroy Andersen.  The artworks were displayed from January through May at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, New York City.

Andersen was founder and 30-year pastor of Galilee Lutheran Church, N24-W26430 Crestview Drive, town of Pewaukee.  After his retirement, Andersen served as interim pastor at several area churches, most recently, Sugar Island Lutheran Church, near Nashotah. He died in 1988 at the age of 66.

The paintings are 7- by 9-foot oils, done entirely in black, which depict the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.  White brushstrokes, reflecting light, allow the translucent forms to be seen.

“When a panting is done in black, it goes to the feelings directly,” explained Gunderson.  “It catches on a more emotional plane.  You can feel the energy as you see it.”

Gunderson, who is Andersen's niece, said her uncle encouraged her pursuit of an art career and inspired her with his awareness of social issues.

“He was very active in civil rights during the 1960s. I was going to college then,” recalled Gunderson.  “He stood up for what he believed.  I was proud of him.”

Laurel Andersen of Brookfield, Andersen’s daughter, said her father marched wit the Rev. James Gropi in the 1960’s and met with Martin Luther King Jr.

“He was instrumental in forming an ecumenical council in Pewaukee during the early days of the movement; was involved in Project Help, a Milwaukee group which provided aid to inner city families; and participated in the structuring of Alcoholic Anonymous groups in the Waukesha area, often extending free space at his church for their meetings,” she said.

In addition, Andersen was active in the National Board of Youth Activity for the American Lutheran Church, Boy Scouts of America, and was chaplain for the Waukesha County emergency squad and Pewaukee veterans groups.

Laurel Andersen said her father also performed the first local wedding ceremony uniting a former Catholic priest and former nun in marriage.

“He was very inspirational,” said Gunderson of Andersen.  “He understood who I was and was supportive.  He was on my side.  When he died, I was very depressed.”

Other works by Gunderson have depicted the heroism of King Christian X of Denmark, who is credited with helping Jews escape by fishing boat to Sweden during the Holocaust.

Like her uncle, Gunderson hopes to make a statement about social issues with her artwork.

“I feel an artist is somebody who has the ability to put something in the world to cause people to shift their attention and cause understanding on that level,” she said.

The artist, a Racine native, olds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa and has an art studio in New York.  She is married to Julian Weissman, director of Modern European painting at the Hischl and Adler Gallery, New York.  They have a son, David, 10.