Karen Bell was born in Menomonie WI. and lived in Brookfield WI. until graduating from the University of WI-Stout with a B.S. in Art Education in 1972. Her concentrations were in Ceramics and Art Metal. During the mid 80’s Karen started showing her work at art fairs around the Midwest. Today she displays nationwide from Washington DC to California and Florida. Karen’s work is in private collections worldwide.
When Karen began showing her work, it was hand-built functional ware that was influenced by Sandhill Cranes and the ancient cultures of the southwest, namely the Anazazi. Her work then gravitated to mostly southwest inspired functional pottery with linear geometric designs. About 1990 she inherited a small terrarium of lizards, and a friend’s interest in the local Box Turtle population and a new pond in front of her studio pushed her into a new direction. Researching each of her new species lead to new hand-built sculptures of reptiles and amphibians. Karen acknowledges and appreciates the symbiotic relationships each animal has with our environment. The individual sculptures have evolved to include habitats, life cycles and food sources. Each new species creates a new challenge and may take many attempts before something exciting happens.
Karen designs each piece in clay, a high fire stoneware, using hand-building techniques of slab, drape, coil, texturing and inlay. She then air dries each piece before bisque firing. After cooling she applies a base high fire glaze that gets fired in a high fire reduction kiln to 2350 degress F. After a couple of days cooling the art piece then is glazed with an additional low fire glaze and gets refired to about 1800 degress F. The art piece is then finished with additional low fire glazes and heated to 400-500 degress F. These applications may number 3, 4 or 5 times until the desired effect is obtained. The final finishing touches of glass eyes, turquoise, cactus spines, or small feathers are then applied.
In the late 90’s Karen started to reach out to mammalian critters, by sculpting bats, armadillos and the occasional possum. Now her work may include reptiles, amphibians and mammals in one large habitat or ecosystem. New elements may also include forest or desert flora and fauna, like mushrooms, cacti, flowers and insects like butterflies, moths and beetles etc.
Karen served as the President of the Madison Potters Guild from 1992 until 2011.
She has two dogs, Josie, a Chinese crested powder puff, and Jack, a Shitztu. Karen’s life becomes complete with husband of 42 years, Lance, and two amazing, wonderful, heart-achingly perfect daughters, Kjerstin and Siri.
During the summer months, Karen works out of her home studio in Spring Green,WI. Winters are spent in Arizona where she enjoys desert exploration which inspires the new desert habitats and ecosystems. Please visit Karen’s Art Fair Schedule to see where she will be this year, and visit if you can!