Karen Gunderson

CATHERINE ANN VELASCO: Racine’s Journal Times: December 4, 1994: Sky Is Not A Limit:

When Karen Gunderson dreams, she dreams big, white and fluffy clouds. The soft kind you want to curl up and dream in. The overpowering skies that that your breath away. The magnificent clouds that make you believe in God, heaven and afterlife.

For more than 30 years, Gunderson, 51, a Racine native, has made a career out of painting clouds and making her dreams come true. The renowned artist, who has had her work shown in acclaimed galleries such as the Weatherspoon Art Gallery at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the E.M. Donahue Gallery in New York, is now reaching toward the sky with another dream. She wants to paint clouds for Racine.

On one of her trips to visit her mother, Deloris Gunderson, they went to Our Saviors Lutheran Church, 2210 Washington Ave. Karen Gunderson was sitting in the pew, reminiscing about her childhood in the church. “ I remembered that I had been in the first confirmation in the new church which meant a lot to me,” she recalled. “I was looking at the green stucco in the chancel area, and since I am an artist, I was fantasizing about how it could be changed.” “ I was struck with the idea that cloud paintings would be beautiful up there. They would open up the space and reinforce the spirituality of the church.”

Like Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gunderson would like to leave a gift of art to her church-her clouds. When people look up at the altar, instead of seeing green stucco they will see the sky. “I want to make it fell like the whole church is in heaven,” she said. Gunderson plans to paint three panels -one in front and two on the sides. The two side panels will be 20 feet wide and 6 feet high while the large panel will be 25 feet wide and 15 feet high.  All of the work will be done in oil paint on linen in her New York studio against her 44-foot long wall. The linen will be rolled onto tubes and sent to Racine.

“The image of the clouds would make the whole space of the church rise up to the sky,” she said. After explaining her idea to the church, the congregation voted unanimously to have Gunderson paint her clouds. “I think it’s very good. When you are in the church and look up front, it will have a very open effect like looking out a large window into the sky. “It should be very pretty,” said Lee Andersen, chairman of property management for the church.

The one condition was that the fund-raising for the project would be done outside of the congregation so money wouldn’t be taken away form the church, he said. So that’s how the Karen Gunderson Cloud Fund began. So far, she has raised $12,600 and needs to raise $7,400 by Jan. 15, 1995, so she can start the two side panels. Then she will need to raise $20,000 for the big panel. Donations to the church are tax deductible. And because she has painted a number of studies for this project, she plans to give them away to people who make donations of $500 or more to the fund.

Her big problem now is time. She wants to have the project done sometime in 1996 for the church’s 100th anniversary. “I hope I get to do it. It would be something I can make and would be incredibly beautiful,” she said. “Its exciting to do something of this magnitude in my hometown and in the church I was confirmed in. “It’s important to be able to give to my community. I’ve always loved Racine. I’m so proud of it’.” said Gunderson, a 1961 Park High School graduate. She now lives with her husband, Julian Weissman, and their son, David, 13, in Manhattan. “ I think of this project for all of Racine and not just the church,” she said.

“I remind myself that the Frank Lloyd Wright building for S.C. Johnson is something that all of us from Racine identify with and are proud of. I feel that if I can complete this commission, more people in Racine will come to see art as something that is part of their lives.” “I hope it will make art more available to every person,’ she said. “I hope it piques people’s interest.”

She is also excited that she will bring her hard-earned reputation as a New York artist to Racine. Playing the sky and the clouds off each other, rather than using the sky as a backdrop, has been Gunderson’s trademark in the last 30 years. “I studied at the University of Iowa in Iowa City where it wasn’t very hilly. There’s a lot of sky,’ she recalled. “I became very interested in the sky. I love nature. It’s a way to pull people toward nature.”