When Karen Paquette was 11 years old in Faribault, Minnesota, she entered a national poster-making contest sponsored by the Humane Society. “I went to the local decorating store and got a book of wallpaper samples. I cut up pieces of different wallpaper and made a wallpaper dog, a wallpaper kitty, and wallpaper words, ‘Pamper Your Pets,’ and glued them onto poster board. That was the start of my collage career,” she says.
She won her age group, a prescient launch to a career that has spanned nearly six decades, in a medium she says articulates her art and her life. “I have pieces of this and pieces of that and they all come together in a paper quilt of collage, and that’s kind of how my life is.” She achieves everything by experiment, declaring, “I am not a traditionalist or a realist.”
A self-described child of the ’60s, she “escaped” the Midwest for the provocative promise of California, where she studied ceramics at the Carmel School Pottery Studio and learned to throw pots. From there, she went to the West Indies for a year and learned to batik from a local woman. Back in the States, she immersed herself in weaving and basketmaking, marrying the two fiber arts into yarn and rope baskets. Her large woven-cord baskets gained her acceptance to her first juried show, the Piedmont Park Arts Festival in Atlanta.
Forty-five years ago, she, her husband, and children landed in Cullowhee, where she continued weaving, and, after a divorce, tapped into her left brain to obtain a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Science from Western Carolina University.
Pulled by her creative compass in a different direction, she took a papermaking class taught by Bryson City papermaker and watercolor artist Elizabeth Ellison. “I fell in love with papermaking,” says Paquette. “I still have paper from the ’80s that I can’t let go of, I love it so much.” She adds natural materials to her handmade, hand-painted material, collaging layer upon layer of mixed media.
“I never have an outcome in mind. When I have a creative impulse, I act on it. I have a lot of creative impulses and lots of unfinished projects.”
Her works in progress fill her home in Black Mountain — “There’s art in the closet, under the bed, in the garage, on the screened-in porch!” But her extensive body of work has also been on view in countless shows, and is represented in galleries and private collections all over the country.
There’s more to come as she prepares for an upcoming local exhibit and others that are bound to resume, in some fashion or another. “Right now, I’m focused on smaller collage redoing — and then I have in mind new things I can’t wait to get to.”
Karen Paquette, Black Mountain. Paquette’s work is represented by The Red House Studios & Gallery of Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League (310 West State St., Black Mountain, svfalarts.org) and Arrowhead Gallery and Studios (78-C South Catawba Ave., Old Fort, arrowheadart.org). It’s also on display at the Monte Vista Hotel (308 West State St., Black Mountain). She will participate in a group show running Oct. 5-23 at Black Mountain Center for the Arts (225 West State St., Black Mountain, blackmountainarts.org/2020-gallery-exhibitions). For more information about the artist, see kkpaquette.com.