Get to Know Local Artist Karen W. Schneider
From poetry to paintings, each product of Karen W. Schneider’s artful lifestyle is created from the heart.
By Haley Phillips
417 Home: You have a diverse background in the arts. How did you develop such a wide skill set?
Karen W. Schneider: [I had the] good fortune to be born into a family with a creative mother and a supportive father in Ashtabula, Ohio. My second home was the Ashtabula Arts Center where I hopscotched from ballet to art, to ceramics, piano, theater—you name it, I did it all. It wasn’t just the classes or the skills that I was learning, it was also the teachers and adults who mentored me along the way that truly shaped my life. My father is a consummate storyteller and my mother was a librarian, so books, reading and libraries were also a very formative aspect of my childhood. Poetry became more important to me in my late 20s when I found myself home mothering three small children.
417 Home: When did you become interested in painting?
K.W.S.: I didn't pick up a brush in earnest until I was 52. In 2006, my mother and I were in Los Angeles at the bedside of my dying cousin. I had previously purchased a small watercolor set while in Florence, Italy, with the intent of giving it to Mother for Christmas, but instead, I brought it with me, and gave it to her in LA. But Mother didn't feel like painting; she handed it back to me and said, ‘You paint,’ so I did. Unwittingly, the endless days of hospital boredom got filled with the gift of my mother teaching me how to paint. The colors helped wash away some of our sadness as I was painting.
417 Home: Who inspires your creativity?
K.W.S.: So many people have inspired me throughout my life, I couldn't begin to mention them all. But more important than inspiration, I have had the unending support of my husband Mike. He has encouraged all of my creative endeavors over our 43 years of marriage, and that has made all the difference.
417 Home: You were instrumental in bringing Sculpture Walk to Springfield. Why was it important to bring public art to the community?
K.W.S.: It is one thing to be in a big city like NYC, Chicago, Mexico City, Rome, etc. where sculptures, fountains and all manner of public art adorn and humanize the urban landscape, but how to accomplish that in a smaller community such as Springfield was a conversation begun over the phone with my good friend Peg Carolla. Together with the help of many like-minded artistic people, we began researching the various sculpture walks that had started popping up all around the country in cities similar to ours. Sculpture Walk Springfield, a museum without walls with access to all, has from the beginning been a collaborative effort, driven by a conviction that public art enhances the urban experience while contributing to the overall economic health of the community.
417 Home: As a published artist, author and poet, where do you find inspiration for your creative outlets?
K.W.S.: When my creative juices are flowing, it’s like riding a wave; you just let go and hope you can hang on for as long as it lasts. From 2006 to 2012 was a long wave of painting for me. The downside is that when you get on a long creative tailwind, nothing much else gets accomplished—I was exhausted. I had to come up for air and take a break. In 2012, Sculpture Walk Springfield was born, and a major house renovation called my attention away from my easel. In the ensuing years I have been helping with our four lively grandchildren, all stretched across the country. My easel and my desk are always waiting for me, enticing me away from the everyday, to a place of wonder.
417 Home: Travel is another important part of your life; how have your travels influenced you?
K.W.S.: I lived with a family in Spain in the winter/spring of 1973; then during the winter/spring of 1975, I lived with a family in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Both experiences were with an exchange student program. The combination of another culture, learning another language, new culinary experiences, large urban areas versus the countryside, old historied cathedrals and castles… as a student, my brain got bigger but my spirit did too. Living abroad reframed every part of my life. We have continued to travel as time and circumstances permit. We prefer exploring new cities and countries on our own, versus going on pre-prescribed tours. You have more of a sense of discovery when you forge your own path.
417 Home: Do you have a favorite destination?
K.W.S.: In Ontario, Canada, at the north point of Georgian Bay (on top of Lake Huron) is another little bay called McGregor Bay. My family has had a summer cottage there since the mid 1960s. It is an old hunting lodge so there is no running water or electricity. We park our cars at the landing, pile all our bags and groceries into the boat and after a 30-minute boat ride we arrive at our small four-and-a-half-acre island. It is quiet; it is my North Star.
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