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 work explores my interest in plants, their relationship to our health, and the importance of diversity in food production; especially genetically diverse plants and crops. My intricate drawings reflect on the complexities found in the natural world and the essential qualities each contributes to the whole, echoing the importance of diversity in maintaining, not only individual health, but the health of communities and ecosystems.
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 Vienna Dioscorides (c. 512 AD) contains the oldest surviving complete manuscript of Dioscorides’ pharmacopoeia.
Several of the nearly 400 uniquely animated plant paintings 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. Stitched on translucent organza, and floated away from the wall, the drawings create a cast shadow. Both images subtly move when the fabric shifts.
My work commemorates and provides a contemporary perspective on the ancient Greek pharmacopoeia by Dioscorides, known by its Latin name, De Materia Medica. I seek to keep the original playful spirit of the Vienna Dioscorides paintings alive by relating their incredible structures through line, tone, and shadow while contemplating the benefits, beauty, and richness found within diverse communities.