February’s artist of the month, Karen Lamphere, started her professional life as an electronics technician and, as such, worked on ships in various places around the world. Born and raised in North Seattle, the Pacific Northwest was where she returned to call home. She eventually became an electronics instructor for Edmonds Community College. But electronics was not her passion; it was something she fell into. She decided to switch tracks in her 30’s and went back to school earning a master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr. She had a private practice in Edmonds until she retired in her 50’s. She also taught food related classes such as cheese making, fermentation, and healthy eating for PCC and many other venues, including the Community Center on Guemes Island. I was not surprised when Karen stated, “I enjoyed this much more than teaching electronics!”
She loves foraging for edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms, and makes potions, tinctures, and salves from them. Not everything she forages is used in these ways, however. It is also a huge component of her art. Karen has been dabbling with one of the oldest photographic processes – the cyanotype. Interestingly, the first book ever illustrated with photographs used cyanotypes. It was created by English botanical artist, collector, and photographer Anna Atkins in 1843. Karen explained how cyanotypes work. “The process consists of coating watercolor paper with a mixture of 2 non-toxic chemicals. The object to be printed is laid on the surface and exposed to sunlight which creates a Prussian Blue color. Water is then used to wash away the sensitizer solution and the blue darkens as the print dries to reveal the final product. Wet cyanotype includes the addition of water, vinegar, and soap suds to create variations in the final print.”
Making cyanotypes seems to be the perfect creative outlet for Karen. “I’m inspired by nature, plants, and my favorite color – blue. And sunshine! I mostly do my art in the spring and summer for that reason. It’s super fun to go camping and collect woodland plants and create cyanotypes with them and wash them in the river.” She is also inspired by the fact that the wet cyanotype process is entirely unpredictable and serendipitous – you never know how it’s going to turn out. “There are many failures, which is why I’ve also started to do collages to make use of my abundant scrap material. That’s been another learning process in itself.”
Who is Karen Lamphere when she’s not creating art? “I’m an eclectic spirit with a diverse range of interests.” She loves hiking, backpacking, and camping in the summer, and snow skiing in the winter. She gardens and likes to cook or preserve what she grows. Like many Guemes Islanders, the love of collecting interesting rocks and agates is strong. She’s made good use of her beach access and took her rock collecting to the next level when she recently redid her bathroom shower using hard to find flat rocks from West Beach. Karen shared “My strongest passion, however, is investigating the nature of reality through non-dual spirituality and meditation. It’s really the underpinning of my life. I’ve done tons of spiritual and meditation retreats over the last 25 years.” For those who are not familiar, nonduality is a philosophy that says that there is just One Eternal Spirit in existence and that everything in the Universe is an inseparable part of it.
Karen has been coming to Guemes since the late 1970s when a childhood friend moved here. “My husband and I were originally thinking of retiring in either Mexico, Costa Rica or Ecuador and we traveled to all those places but realized the PNW was every bit as beautiful, and we don’t really mind the rain so much. Guemes is a great retirement spot, and we love it!”
“Although I’ve been a lifelong pianist, beyond the music realm I never considered myself artistic in any way and I’m frankly shocked that I have now been in two art studio tours. I’ve never had any art training, and everything I’ve learned has been through YouTube and Google and lots of trial and error.” Currently, the Studio Tours are the only place you can purchase Karen’s artwork. Coming soon is her guemesislandart.org artist page. Her work is truly unique, not only in its beauty, but also its historical ties.
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