Karen Gunderson

JAMES AUER : Millwaukee Journal Sentinel: Eyes on Heavens: Could Paintings Lift Church’s Spirit: Friday November 24, 1995

Racine-Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, firmly tied to the Earth at 2219 Washington Ave. since 1953, is a little close to heaven these days, thanks to the epic-scale cloud paintings of Karen Gunderson. Gunderson, who grew up in the church, is in the process of creating a three-part cloud environment for the chancel area of the sanctuary. Two of the three painting have been mounted. The idea come to her, Gunderson said in a recent interview, while she sat in the sanctuary during a Sunday service a year or so ago. She looked up and realized that there were three sizable areas of “ugly” green stucco.

Like any good professional, Gunderson immediately visualized her own imagery floating vaporously above the chancel’s fine wainscoting. She conveyed the possibility to the then pastor, Dennis Napton, who was enthusiastic. Napton had the spaces measured and photographed. He sent a batch of color prints to Gunderson, who had returned to her New York City home. In return, Gunderson- who is widely known for her could paintings – sketched out her ideas.

The project was approved at a congregational meeting, and Gunderson set out to find the funding necessary to realize her dream. A New York art collector and investment banker, Blaine Roberts, came through with $10,000. Other gifts followed. By the time the needed total, $20,000, had been reached, Gunderson was ready with a pair of custom-fitted, oil-on-linen cloudscapes, each measuring 6 1/2 by 20 feet. The pictures went up early in November. The third painting, Measuring 14 1/2 by 29 feet, will be the costliest of all, the artist said, since it will be larger than the others. It will cost close to $20,000 to execute and mount on the custom fabricated stretchers. Still, she is optimistic. “We hope to have it completed by the time of the congregation’s 100th anniversary celebration in September of 1996,” she said. “It’s not going to cost the church a penny out of the operation funds. It will be paid with donations outside of the normal budget.”

With Manhattan studio rentals as high as they are, and the cost of art materials rising as well, Gunderson, 52, looks upon the triptych, called “Great Clouds of Witnesses,” as a gift of love and labor to the church in whose sanctuary she was confirmed at age 12. Reared in Racine, where her mother still lives, Gunderson did undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and earned two graduate degrees at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. She is married to Julian Weissman, a New York art dealer. They have a son, David.

Gunderson will be showing a sampling of her recent work, oil paintings and mixed-media compositions, from Saturday through Dec. 25 at the Michael H. Lord Gallery, 420 E. Wisconsin Ave., in Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel. The show opens from 10a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.