Karen Gunderson

JAMES AUER: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:The Visual Arts: Racine Church’s ‘Cloud’ Painitngs Keep the Mind on Matters Above: Wednesday, May 7, 1997

Racine – We Americans spend too little time looking up at the clouds and too much looking down at the pavement, possibly to find a coin.  By contrast, our ancestors studied the heavens and were healthier for it.

That seems to be the thinking behind “Clouds of Witnesses,” the multi-panel work that Karen Gunderson, a New York painter, with Racine roots, has completed for the sanctuary of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2219 Washington Ave.

Executed in oil on linen, the installation consists of two side paintings, measuring 7 by 21 feet, and a central group that measures 15 feet vertically.  All depict radiant cloud banks.  The effect is luminous, sunstruck, liberating.

Positioned centrally above the altar is a figure of Christ creates by a Danish woodcarver.  Gunderson said in an interview that she planned the installation to allow for the presence of the sculpture.  As light levels go up, the clouds appear to rise. 

Ironically, the size of he sanctuary puts the bog-scale compositions into perspective.  This, too, Gunderson took into account in composing the work.  She designed the side panels so they would be effective when “foreshortened,” or viewed from the front.

Wooden stretchers fro the two large side panels were specially constructed for the project by Wayne Kavalianskas, a skilled Wisconsin craftsman.  The installation’s multi-panel central section was framed and stretched to Gunderson’s specifications by a New York firm.

Gunderson said she got the ides for the installation during a church service.  It was a way of establishing rapport with people of her mother’s generation.  It was also a way of proving to the residents of a small Wisconsin city that “there are painters alive in the world.”

A model of a Scandinavian sailing ship, suspended in the center above the sanctuary, points up the essentially Danish nature of the congregation and heightens the visual effectiveness if the cloud paintings, several of which were paid for out of gifts from New York collectors.
A number of donor to the project are Jewish, Gunderson said.  Part of their motivation for honoring the church through the project was gratitude on their parts for the role Danish Christians played in saving many of the nation’s Jews from death during the Holocaust.
Additional support for the product came from local donors and from Lee and Ione Andersen, who loaned money to the church in anticipation it would be paid for it through the “Cloud Fund.”  The final panel was installed in time for the church’s centennial last September.

Gunderson holds a bachelor’s degree form the Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she studied painting with Clayton Bailey and Max Taylor.  Later she entered graduate school at the University of Iowa, where she earned a master’s degree in painting and a master’s of fine arts in intermedia.