Artist connects with nature

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014 08:38 am

Turner Valley artist Karen Hunter holds a piece of her art displayed in the Sheep River Library’s gallery this month. The series of work incorporates the use of wasp nests.
Turner Valley artist Karen Hunter holds a piece of her art displayed in the Sheep River Library’s gallery this month. The series of work incorporates the use of wasp nests.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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An insect that sends many running in fear is the muse for a Turner Valley artist.

Despite being stung by wasps on many occasions, 57-year-old Karen Hunter gained an appreciation for the black and yellow insects when her husband handed her an abandoned wasps nest he found in their yard two years ago.

“I just sat and looked at the paper and thought it was really cool,” she said. “It looked like wood.”

As she peeled the nest apart, Hunter noticed striations of colours in each layer, depending on what type of wood the wasps chewed. The paper-like material was tightly woven and strong.

“When you think about it they withstand wind, rain, the hot weather and the cold weather,” she said. “Some of them that I’ve gotten a hold of are years old and the paper gets thinner and more fragile, but it still holds together.”

Fascinated with trees since she began creating art 10 years ago, Hunter thought this form of regurgitated wood was perfect for creating images of old trees and driftwood that caught her attention on walks along the river and country roads in the area.

“I’ve done a lot of tree scapes and fantasy tree work and a lot of collage work and things like that,” she said. “In the wasps nest you find a lot of interesting little details like little knots and little sprigs of lichen and odd little bumps and odd little patterns. I tried to incorporate a lot of that in there. Trees have that sort of thing as well.”

Hunter used the wasp nest layers to create images of old trees and driftwood on paper, inspired by birch and cottonwood commonly found in the area.

Hunter calls her series of wasp nest art What a Spectacular Papermaker (W.A.S.P.).

It is on display in the Sheep River Library gallery this month and has many people buzzing with excitement.

“They are surprised that it’s wasps nests because they are a pest nobody takes the time to look at what they actually do and how fascinating it is,” she said. “People will go right up close to it and say, ‘It looks like bark.’ That’s what I discovered when I first saw it.”

Hunter’s trees and driftwood images are back dropped with repurposed paper and cardboard she found in packaging. She favours pieces with compressed fibres for more texture and will even crumple and flatten old paper bags and bring out the textures using water-based oil stains for colour to create skies reminiscent of the region.

“I used to work night shifts and come home at dawn quite a lot,” she said. “I create different skies I’ve seen in this area and cloud formations.”

All the while, Hunter keeps her nature scenes true to the medium she is using.

“If I’m going to use tissue paper or something like that I want to reflect the fact that it is tissue paper in some spots and not completely disguise it so people can’t recognize it,” she said. “On the other hand, to take something like a wasp nest to reuse it in a way nobody knows what it is is kind of a challenge. I like to make people think by using unusual materials and manipulating them a little.”

Hunter complements her art with vintage-looking wooden frames she salvages. Sometimes she will buff or sand them for an even more aged appearance.

“I really believe in using things that I salvaged for repurposed,” she said. “It’s all around us, scraps and bits and pieces and packaging. I would rather use it in art than have it in the landfill.”

Hunter also saves pieces of nature she finds on outings. Since discovering her talent for art 10 years ago, it has come to good use.

“I don’t like to waste money,” she said. “If I can find it for free I’ll use it.”

Hunter’s artist talents didn’t begin as a child. In fact, she didn’t even considered art as a hobby until she had reoccurring dreams about drawing and painting starting in 2002.

She decided to give it a try and began with pastel work and then created animal portraiture. She took some classes over the years to learn more mediums and expand her horizons.

It isn’t long before Hunter is looking for something else to create.

“I get bored easily,” she said. “I want to try everything at least once.”

Hunter plans to open an art studio in her home now that she’s retired and continue dabbling into various mediums.


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