Contemplative Art That Literally Touches the Moon

“Art is a way to invite people in,” says Connie Karleta Sales.
Portrait by Lauren Rutten

From an early age, mixed-media artist Connie Karleta Sales has drawn, painted, and written poetry. But for years it was her closely guarded secret. “I’d write and draw and tape the images and words under my clothes — then I’d throw them into an alleyway dumpster, for safety,” she says. “I didn’t realize it was art — it was just my survival tool.” 

Creative expression helped Sales process the aftermath of severe physical and psychological trauma. In college, she recalls, “I used to be so afraid of people that if someone looked like they were going to say hello I’d run and find a closet.” But with encouragement from a professor who recognized her talent, Sales made a life-changing decision and enrolled in the art department. “I found a safe home there,” she says. “It was a beginning place where I could be who I was — and I made longtime friends.” 

Outlier Exceptions

Based today in the thriving, historic Toe River arts corridor, Sales shares her creative outpourings with the world. Her goal is creating deeper, more meaningful human connections. 

“Painting is a way to invite people in and break barriers,” Sales believes. She describes how, at exhibits, “People look at art and start asking questions about it, and answering each other’s questions. They realize they have more in common than they are different. Art becomes a catalyst for self-discovery as part of a community, to see how beautiful life is on a very deep level.”

Solace Seeker IX (digital painting)

Sales adds that “I know a piece is complete when it is no longer familiar to me. That tells me it’s ready to go out into the world as part of the viewer’s own story.” To facilitate that experience, she even sells miniature contemplative paintings framed on pendant necklaces. “They are impressionistic, so people can see their own experiences within them, and it makes me cry how people respond to them.”

Heal Me Open (digital painting)

Within the past decade Sales has lived with quadriplegia, due to a progressive neuromuscular disease. But she’s still creating art and expanding and strengthening artistic connections through exhibits, conversations, and her own YouTube channel and other social-media platforms. She sometimes holds brushes and pens with her mouth, although most of her work is now done with eye-gaze technology that tracks her eye movements to control digital drawing and painting tools on her computer screen. 

Solace Seeker V

“I wasn’t sure I’d like it,” she admits. “But I’ve fallen in love with it.” 

And the results have reverberated far beyond her home in rural Bakersville. Along with national gallery representation and a growing list of collectors, Sales will soon, as part of the Lunar Codex project implemented by NASA, have examples of her art and a video of her unique painting process secured on the moon in a time capsule. 

Appearing as Her Own Being

“What my illness tries to take away, technology gives back,” says Sales. “But if it weren’t for my community, that wouldn’t be possible.” 

Connie Karleta Sales, Crooked Little Flower Studios — CKArt, 39 Castanea St., Bakersville, and on IG, TikTok, and YouTube @crookedlittleflower. Sales is one of almost 100 artists participating in the Toe River Arts Studio Tour happening Friday, June 2, through Sunday, June 4, in Mitchell and Yancey Counties, 10am-5pm. See for a full map of studio addresses and more information. (The Studio Tour Preview Exhibition runs May 13-June 4 at Kolol Studio & Gallery, 269 Oak Ave., Spruce Pine, with a meet-the-artist reception on Friday, June 2, 5:30-7:30pm.) 

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