Karen Gunderson

CATHERINE ANN VELASCO: The Journal Times: Metro: Clouds Of Hope: Artist’s Gift Provides Light : Thursday September 26, 1996

Like Michelangelo who painted the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel, Karen Gunderson has left a gift of art to her church- in her case, clouds.

The green stucco behind the altar has been replaced with a world of light and shadows at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2219 Washington Ave.

“I’m really excited. It’s amazing.  I can’t believe it really has happened,” she said.  “It’s about light.  Light is hope.  Light is spirit.”

For more than 30 years, Gunderson, 53, a Racine native now of Manhattan, has made a career out of painting clouds.

Gunderson, who has had her work shown in acclaimed galleries, reached toward the sky to fulfill a dream: She has painted clouds for Racine.

The piece features a tower of clouds about 10 feet high with a pale blue sky above it.  The wall is about 20 feet long and 14 feet high.

But it wasn’t easy.  Gunderson completed the painting on July 2, but when she saw it again the next day – she knew it was wring.

“It was too complicated.  It was too tight.  I worked on it too much,” she said.

So she started over by scraping the paint off the linen, and trying again.

“I worked 12-hour days to get it done.  I worked from July 3 to Aug. 14.  I wanted to get it done by the 100th anniversary this weekend,” she said

This Sunday, the congregation will celebrate its anniversary at a 10 a.m. service with the Bishop Peter Rogness presiding.  The public is invited.

The first phase of the cloud project was completed last November when the two side panels were placed in the church.  The final panel – the clouds behind the Christ figure – was put up Wednesday.

Gunderson got the inspiration in church during one of her trips to visit her mother, Deloris Gunderson, in Racine.  The artist was looking up at the green stucco in the chancel area and thought something pretty should be put up there.

Gunderson painted her work with a combination of oil paint and a wax medium on linen canvas in her New York studio.

Her dream came true when the last panel was placed in the church Wednesday morning – almost two years after the project began – and just in time for the anniversary festivities.
To pay for the project, Gunderson raised $20,000 for the first two panels that were put up in November, and needed another $20,000 for the front wall.

She hadn’t raised the entire amount, but thanks to Lee Anderson, a generous church member, the cloud project received another $13,000 loan.  It will be paid back through future donations.

Wayne Kavaliauskas, owner of Wayne’s Maintenance and Remodeling, volunteered the labor to put up the clouds with the help from his employees, Dan Clazmer and Lester Carr.

On Wednesday morning, Carr and Clazmer delicately stretched the linen onto the frame and stapled it in place.  The tricky part was stretching the fabric smoothly, so no wrinkles were left.

After some tricky maneuvering and balancing, the crew had the final piece up to complete the sky.

“It’s amazing,” Gunderson said as she looked at her masterpiece from the back of the church.  “I’ve never seen them this far back before.”

“When I paint clouds I made people aware of clouds by doing it,” she said.
Gunderson hopes her cloud project will start a new trend for other artists.

“There are a lot of great artists who can do good work for the church,”” she said.  “If churches get behind artists it would be an interesting era.”