Karen Beverly is an artist, who came to her vocation late in life. She retired from her Federal Government job following a long, successful career and then managed to win a state lottery to sell her artworks in the Jackson Square area of New Orleans in February 2016.
She is passionate about her art and it has given her a new lease of life, into her retirement years. She says: “I found my passion creating and selling art to people from all over the world. Seeing others enjoy my work motivates me to paint almost daily”.
Along with her regular New Orleans sales outlet, her artworks are displayed in galleries throughout the Maryland area.
Karen was born into a busy family background in July 1958, in Washington, DC. She is a single mother to an adult son, Korin Dawud Agnew. Her parents, Dorothy and Daniel L Beverly, are deceased. Karen was the seventh of their nine children. She says that her mother and father were: “. . . dedicated, hardworking parents that laid a strong foundation for me and my siblings. My father worked two jobs for over 40 years and never owned a car and we never wanted for anything”.
Family ties mean a lot to Karen, she is a single mother and she is particularly close to her four sisters, Dianne, Linda, Donna and Kimberly. Her sisters and a few good friends will often find sales opportunities, so she can showcase her art. She explains: “My love of family, nature and life is depicted in my art. Also, I believe that there is a strong connection that women share in life. I call it Sisterhood. But I try to show that connection in my works of the ladies standing strong together. I believe my ladies are uniquely beautiful. I feel that women should support women. No matter the size…colour…or status in life. We share experiences unique to women and this creates an undeniable bond”.
Her strongest childhood memories are of family holiday celebrations, especially Christmas. She comments: “Our home was filled with good food, gifts, holiday cheer and love for all our family and our friends. It was the home everyone stopped by for eggnog and Mom’s homemade baked goodies. It was always filled with laughter and good times. But not just at Christmas. My Mom and Dad made sure we celebrated birthdays, Easter (with baskets and candy and dyed eggs for all of us), Independence Day (with lots of fireworks) and Valentine’s Day, (all of my sisters and my Mom were treated to our own box of chocolates from a speciality candy shop). We would have so much fun”.
Karen’s earliest education was at the St. Francis Xavier School in Washington DC. She then went on to graduate in the top 10% from McKinley Technical High School in 1976. Following on from high school she studied media journalism at North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC and graduated cum laude. Karen is proud of the fact that she finished undergraduate studies in less than four years. Throughout her studies, she, at times, worked three jobs in order to support her needs.
She realised she was passionate about art at an early age. From the age of five, she worked in the kitchen with her mother and she fell in love with photography when, aged seven, her dad gave her a Brownie camera. She also taught herself to crochet at the age of 13, selling many of the hats and scarves she made to fund her schooling.
Karen’s entire career was spent with the Federal Communications Commission, and she started working for them in 1975 at the age of 16. From 1992, until retirement, she worked with the office that carried out liaison between small, minority and female-owned businesses in telecommunications. She held posts as a supervisor and then a manager. One really enjoyable aspect to the job was helping host the annual Access to Capital conference for small businesses as this offered her a chance to travel and speak to groups and trade associations. One regular event was speaking to a group of Black Broadcasters every summer in New Orleans and this is when she developed her love for the city.
Karen has been painting for five years now and describes a typical day as follows: “First I decide on the size canvas I want to work on. Next, I think on the subject matter and colours. I prep my work area with all my materials. I normally burn incense and candles. Aromatherapy heightens my creativity. I normally like to paint with some of my completed artworks surrounding me. They inspire me”.
She feels that it has taken her whole life to move to a position where she can create her art and says this is because she has lived through so very much tragedy and pain, alongside joy and happiness. All these emotions are manifested in her art.
The general themes covered in her work include her love of life, family, nature and sisterhood. She also developed a love for the swamp areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge and has a series called “Bayou Inspired”.
She tends to work on more than one piece of art at a time and usually completes the backgrounds first off. She uses acrylic paint, as she likes its glossy shine and the fact it is so easy to work with.
Karen says that she doesn’t tend to paint the same subject twice, but she often paints a series of works with the same theme. She explains:
“I have a series I call “Spiritual Awakening”. It shows a beautiful woman in the midst of nature, standing strong and tall. I have received an enormous amount of positive feedback on this series and it is often the topic of discussion when my work is on display”. She confirms that she’s sold many prints from the series. Another of her favourite series is called “Cutie Pies” and depicts images of her nieces and great nieces (of which she has 14 at the last count).
She feels a lot of satisfaction when a work of art is complete, although sometimes she does go back to works after a few months to make alterations or additions.
Karen feels the most important tool she has is her imagination and the colourful visions she experiences. She takes a lot of enjoyment out of blending colours and witnessing how others react to her artworks. She says that as an artist she feels it is important to be true to yourself and create something you feel good about. She believes artists have a major role to play in society: “Art can influence and inspire. Art often reflects the times and can inspire positive changes. Art can bring beauty to difficult environments and situations”.
Karen says that she likes her art being compared to works by Clementine Hunter, Jonathan Greene and Bill Himmerling, as they all work in similar mode and style.
The art she sells in the French Quarter of New Orleans has gone to people from all over the world, including Australia, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Indonesia, Paris, Poland and Croatia. She’s proud of her first international sale and says: “Once I received an email from a lady with a picture of my painting hanging in her dining room in London with a note stating, “Karen you are an International Artist now!” This was the first piece that travelled outside of the U.S. I would love for my work to be recognised worldwide. I would love to exhibit in a gallery abroad”.
Karen says that her mother and father were the greatest inspirations and role models in her life. Her father was extremely hard working, but also the most loving person she’s ever known. He instilled a great work ethic in all his kids: “Hard work never hurt nobody”, he used to say.
When it comes to other artists she admires, she really adores the works of Jessica Strahan and Bill Himmerling, two native Louisiana painters. She also admires Clementine Hunter. Some of her favourite works of art are “The Funeral Procession” by Ellis Wilson and “Sweet Olive” by Bill Himmerling.
The works of art she most identifies with are primitive folk art pieces.
Karen leads an almost perfect vegetarian life.
She stopped eating pork in 1975 and beef in 1976, with chicken and poultry following in 1977. In a normal day, she will eat fruit, vegetables and seafood. She’s never tasted alcoholic beverages or smoked a cigarette in her life. Neither has she ever drank a cup of coffee. She generally sips herbal teas, and likes aloe vera juice and water mixed with ginger crystals.
Music plays a large part in her life and was intrinsic to family life as she grew up. Her favourite artist is Al Jarreau and she has met him on three occasions. She also loves Roots Rock Reggae as it lifts her spirits. Two of her favourite artists are Lucky Dube, a musician from South Africa and Raul Midon, a blind guitarist. Lucky Dube is now dead, but she says watching Raul Midon live in concert is an absolute joy. He is a one-man band and can play the piano, bongo, drums and guitar.
It seems Karen has everything she ever wanted in life although if she could fulfil her travel ambition her cup would be complete. She says she would love to travel more overseas and has a dream of painting in a meadow in Brittany, France, surrounded by wild flowers, or perhaps in Bora Bora or the Seychelles.
Karen has one message for the youth of today and says: “Work hard and study hard. Find something that you enjoy to make a living. It’ll make work not seem like work”.