Karen Gustafson creates intricate drawings that reflect on the complexities found in the natural world. Earning her BFA from the University of Minnesota and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Gustafson has been teaching at Normandale Community College since 1999. Gustafson has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad at prestigious institutes including GV Art (London, England), Plains Art Museum (ND), San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles (CA), Lexington Art League (KY), Pence Gallery, (CA), and Burnet Gallery (MN). Grants awarded include the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant (2017, 2012) and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council Next Step Grant (2014).
MN Original featured Gustafson and her work on their award-winning program in 2012. Gustafson’s MN Original video was selected by WNET (PBS) in New York as part of an arts content sharing initiative. It has aired in arts programming across the nation, including NYC-ARTS, LaARTS, and Houston’s Arts Insight. Gustafson is part of the Wellcome Collection’s visual library, Wellcome Trust, London, England. Gustafson is represented by the SciArt Center in their virtual SciArt Collection gallery. Gustafson lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
My recent series, entitled the Vienna Dioscorides, explores my interest in plants, their relationship to our health, and the importance of growing and consuming diverse crops and plant-based foods. Research into the historical role of plants’ medicinal and nutritional properties, brought me to the fountainhead of herbals; the Greek pharmacopoeia written by Dioscorides in c. 65 AD. Dioscorides’ text was considered the authority on medicinal plants for over 1500 years.
The original Vienna Dioscorides herbal (512 AD) contains the oldest surviving complete manuscript of Dioscorides’ pharmacopoeia. Several of the nearly 400 paintings of plants depicted in the Vienna Dioscorides are still known to us today. These plants create a connection to this ancient text, linking past to present. These paintings are the inspiration for my free-motion embroidered drawings. I reflect on the intricacies found within a single plant and the essential properties each plant contributes to the whole, while ruminating on the importance of maintaining diversity, not only for individual health, but healthy communities and ecosystems.
This series recontextualizes the historic role of a needlework sampler. Rather than collect and preserve stitches and patterns, I preserve the ancient medicinal plants of Dioscorides. I use thread, translucent organza, and a sewing machine to create ethereal plant portraits. Floating away from the wall, they cast a secondary shadow drawing.