Karen Gunderson

CATHERINE ANN VELASCO: The Journal Times: An Artist’s Inspired Gift: Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Friday November 10, 1995

Wayne Kavaliauskas stood among the clouds Thursday morning as he and his crew lifted a 100-pound painting in the air and placed it next to Jesus Christ.

It took lots o coordination and three ladders as Kavaliauskas and his two workers simultaneously climbed the ladders, placing the 10-by-6 foot painting in its new home at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2219 Washington Ave.

Instead of staring at the green stucco in the chancel area, congregation members can get lost in a world of clouds, light and shadows – thanks to artist Karen Gunderson.

For more than 30 years, Gunderson, 52, a Racine native now of Manhattan, has made a career of painting clouds.  She is now leaving a gift of her art to her church.

The first phase of her project was completed Thursday after the two side panels were placed in the church.  The final project – the clouds behind the Christ figure – will be created after $16,500 is raised to cover costs.

Gunderson got the inspiration in church during one of her trips to visit her mother, Deloris Gunderson, who lives in Racine.

“I was looking up at the green stucco in the chancel area, and since I am an artist, I was fantasizing about how it could be changed,” she said.  “I was struck with the idea that clouds paintings could be beautiful up there.  They would open up the space and reinforce the spirituality of the church.”

Gunderson painted her masterpiece with a combination of oil paint and a wax medium on linen canvas in her New York studio.  The linen was then rolled up onto tubes and sent to Racine.

Part of her dream came true when the two side panels were placed in the church Thursday – almost a year after the project began.  She hopes to finish the project sometime in 1996 for the congregation’s 100th anniversary.

To pay for the project, Gunderson raised $20,000 for the first two panels and it will cost another $20,000 for the front wall.  She has already raised $3,500.

The congregation’s one concern was that the fund-raising would be done outside the parish, so money wouldn’t be taken away from the church.

For the first phase, investment banker Blaine Roberts of New York, who collects Gunderson’s pieces, gave her $14,000 in donations from family, friends and church members.

Kavaliauskas, owner of Wayne’s Maintenance and Remodeling, volunteered the labor to put up the clouds with the help from his employees Daniel Clazmer and Lester Carr.
Kavaliauskas could never figure out why the builders never finished the beautiful wood panel in his church’s chancel.  He helped build the second church for his congregation in 1956 while he was an apprentice.  Now, 41 years later, he’s helping give the green stucco a face-lift.

“I think it’s beautiful now,” Kavaliauskas said.  “You can just see the difference on the two sides.”

But putting up the clouds wasn’t a simple task.  The first step was to build a frame for the space and to get it to fit.  Kavaliauskas chose a redwood frame because it doesn’t shrink like other wood.  After the paintings arrived, h e laid the frame on the linen canvas before stapling it together with 450 staples.

The tricky part was stretching the fabric smoothly, so no wrinkles were left, he said.

“This guy (Kavaliauskas) is a genius.   Racine had an incredible art handler in this man,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson and the gang can’t wait for the project to be completed.  The final piece will feature 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.

“The clouds will reflect a caring spirit in a mean-spirited world,” said Jerry Anderson, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Besides being nice to look at, the light and the contrast in the painting will help illustrate and dramatize the Gospel of St. John, which ahs lots of references to light in its passages, Anderson said.

Gunderson’s paintings are also filled with many metaphors – for example, shadows are to remind people that where there are shadows there is light and where there is light there is hope, she said.

Lee Anderson, property manager for the church, is very happy with the painting.

“They will mean something different to each person.  It’s the eye of the beholder,” he said.
“It will take your mind on a trip when you look at it.  It’s like looking out a window.”

The clouds are expected not only to bring in curious onlookers, but art critics.

Gunderson added, “It’s my major accomplishment to this date.  I think people will want to see it.”