Oil in her veins: Karen Kiefer follows parents in creating art that lives



Editor’s note: Karen Kiefer, 59, is one of Elk River Area Arts Alliance’s most prolific painters and teachers. An ERAAA member since 1997, she has served as judge several times at the Edina Art Center, Robbin Gallery, and other venues. She’s had numerous showings statewide, including the State Fair Fine Art Exhibition and an invitational showing at the IDS building. Last year she got Best of Show for her painting “Plan B” at the Robbin Gallery’s “Extremely Minnesota” show. Her website is www.kieferart.com. Following is her own account.

Oil paint is an infinitely forgiving medium. I’m all for that. Problems solved to your heart’s content and, in the end, you’ll have something worth framing. Would that everyday life was so easygoing.

"Self portrait"
Karen Kiefer

My childhood home was filled with the scent of coffee and turpentine. Both of my parents were oil painters. I have worked full time as a figurative oil painter and instructor for the past 21 years to carry on the Kiefer tradition. Now living near the town of Ogilvie, I continue my longtime membership in the Elk River Area Arts Alliance.

My recent six-week solo show hosted by the Sherburne County Government Center was designed to be interactive. The vote count for your favorite painting showed “Freed” (pictured here) to be the clear winner. I so appreciate your encouraging and insightful comments about the show.


My formal education includes rigorous training in theater arts in college and the study of more conventional forms of visual art including a brief but intensive workout with acclaimed painter David A. Leffel. That’s where I honed my artistic tools. BTW, many thanks to Harvey Schroeder, longtime Elk River art educator, for pointing me in the right direction at the right time.

The images I choose are simple, familiar places and situations, designed to bring the viewer “home” in some particular way. For me, it’s not enough to capture a likeness on canvas. It has to “live” somehow. I struggle to paint beyond the varnish and beyond the frame to present a gently evocative world for my viewers by continuously posing the question, “What life is right in front of me?”

"Talk to the Hand"

Every now and then I like to stretch my bounds by gathering artists together in a conceptual show such as 2002’s “What’s the Difference?,” a CMAB grantee and ERAAA-sponsored touring show.

Premiering in Elk River, then touring to Grand Rapids, Edina and St. Cloud, this 18-month project asked its viewers to observe “the difference” between the artist’s artwork and the stimulus, a photo from which each artist based his work. Is this difference a clue to the artist’s personality? Their responses were vital to fulfill the ideals of the concept which became an integral part of the show as it toured.

I continue to paint, accept commissions and teach in my studio. I’m currently dipping my toe into national waters. Whatever forward motion I have experienced has been bolstered by the exceptional art educators I’ve been lucky enough to encounter along the way. My work is dedicated to those who keep art alive.

"Remains Unalloyed"