Alan Lowy photo
Unusual expressions—Artist Karen Friend has a knack for turning fruits of the garden into creative canvases.
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Gourds, Faberge eggs part of Friend’s artistic menu
Shea Stanfield~ 5/7/2014
With her expertise in the techniques of painting, carving, pyrographs and embellishing design, local artist Karen Friend has taken the art of designer gourds and Faberge eggs to a whole new level.
In a recent interview, she called her studio a living collage, full of treasures from thrift shops, yard sales, desert hikes and random objects that wander in from various places.
Karen began her journey into the formal study of art while attending Allegheny Community College in southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1970s and went on to receive bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Chicago in 1977.
The corporate world snagged her creativity for identity branding in the sign and printing industry. But after fulfilling that role in the job market for 25 years, she said it was time for a change.
In 2002, Karen and her husband Roger bought and remodeled a bed and breakfast in Cave Creek and launched a 5-year stint into the hospitality industry. In 2007, the couple decided it was time to reclaim their privacy and pursue other interests.
After selling the bed and breakfast, they moved to New River, where Karen found time to immerse herself back into the fine arts once again—this time using the objects of nature embellishing gourds and eggs.
Annually, Karen makes excursions to farms in Arizona and southern California to select gourds as her three dimensional canvases. She said that she looks for personality and possibility in her gourd selections. The character of the shape is the first step in creating that one-of-a-kind piece that will inspire awe in its viewer. Karen initially sketches her plan on the surface of the gourd with a pencil. From this basic pattern, she can develop visual interest in the design by using wood burning and carving tools. Color is added through a variety of techniques using dyes, inks, acrylics, oils, watercolor and colored pencils. The pop and wow factor in the design comes with the use of beadwork, stone inlay, metal conchos, seeds, bones, wood and other natural objects to create unusual and unique textures.
Karen came to the Faberge style eggs while working at the Cave Creek Museum. She found herself taking a class, taught by co-worker Fran Hunold, and fell in love with the process.
She entered the White House Easter Egg Competition in 2008 with her second attempt in egg decorating. Her piece, entitled “Monument Valley in an Egg,” then won the privilege to represent Arizona at the White House. Subsequently, she was rewarded with a tour of the White House and a picture with First Lady Laura Bush. Karen’s entry became part of the White House collection and now resides at the Bush Presidential Library.
In 2009, Karen entered a Faberge egg entitled “1870 Western Street Scene” in the White House Easter Egg Competition. Once again, she was asked to represent Arizona at the White House. Her winning egg is currently on display at the White House Visitor’s Center in Washington D.C. during the Obama administration.
Karen is active with her fellow artisans in the Sonoran Arts League, Southwest Gourd Association and the New River Gourd Path. She chaired the Sonoran Arts League’s Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Karen took a lead position in sponsoring a local “judges training session” for gourd art with the Southwest Gourd Association. She said that this led to a greater awareness in the overall judging process at the Annual Wuertz Gourd Festival Competition held in Casa Grande. Over 12,000 visitors attend the Festival in Casa Grand each year, contributing to its reputation as one of the best artistic gourd events in the United States.
To see Karen’s work locally, visit the Cave Creek Museum Gift Shop and Desert Foothills Library where she has two pieces on exhibit. She will have five pieces on display at the Kernville Cultural and Art Center in Texas from May 22 to June 22. Also, visit her website at soaringspiritstudio.com. Karen can be contacted by email at Karen@soaringspiritstudio.com or by phone at 623-465-0096.