Karen Karnes

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Karen Karnes is an American ceramist, best known for her earth-toned stoneware ceramics. She was born in 1925 in New York City, United States, where she attended art schools for children. Her garment worker parents were Russian and Polish immigrants. Karen was influenced in many ways by her parents' communist philosophies, and has professed respect for working in small communities.

Karen applied and was accepted to the La Guardia High School. As a child she was surrounded by urban realities and visual influences, but she claims that her parents' old-world ideals kept her grounded. [1] At Brooklyn College she majored in design and graduated in 1946.

Karnes today makes more contemporary vessels, which are given different attention to design than her original pottery. [1] She still today makes many traditional forms. Today Karen primarily fills her kilns with more contemporary forms, but she continues to produce casseroles, teapots, cups and bowls.

When Karen was in her mid-twenties, she and her husband David Weinrib moved down to North Carolina to attend/work at the Black Mountain College. One of her friends at the Black Mountain College was Merce Cunningham, and she lived with his partner John Cage. Both Cunningham and Cage were impressed with Zen Buddhist thought, and were intrigued by what chance had to do with an outcome. They expressed this in their compositions and choreography, in music and dance. “Nichi, nichi kore ko kore.” Every day is a good Day, a Zen Buddhist saying, was one they as a group enjoyed reminding each other of. [2]

While in the Carolinas, Karen Karnes became a country potter. She was introduced to potters such as Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, and local Americans Malcom Davis and Mark Shapiro. Karen decided to live the rest of her life on a farm, working with clay and using old firing practices such as wood and salt firing. [1] In 1998, her house and studio burned to the ground because of a kiln fire. [3] With the help of donations from a large pottery sale, Karen rebuilt her country house and studio. She received a Graduate Fellowship from Alfred University, and more recently won a gold medal for the consummate craftsmanship from The American Craft Council.[4] Her work is displayed in numerous galleries and permanent collections worldwide.


  1. ^ a b c Karen Karnes Oral History Interview Conducted by Mark Shapiro for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2005
  2. ^ Karen Karnes Oral History Interview Conducted by Mark Shapiro for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2005
  3. ^ Jim Lowe. Karen Karnes: From Potter to Sculptor. Rutland Herald. March 30, 2010
  4. ^ Karen Karnes biography presented by artnet