Collection: Karen May Highlights


Karen May (b. 1950)

NIAD is proud to announce that in October 2023, the works of Karen May joined the permanent collection of SFMOMA.


Artist Bio

Karen May is a multi-media artist who practices in collage, ceramics, drawing, painting, poetry and fiber art. Often times the boundaries between mediums and styles commingle in Karen’s work. Karen shares, “Some of the things I’m making are collages, some of them are maps. What I do with the maps is I work on them and then they turn into collages. And the same with a book.” 

Karen likes to work with found text and frequently creates her own poetry throughout her daily life. She is always looking for source material for her work, saying “Like if I see a stop sign, I find some words that I don’t have on the paper and I put them there, yes. Some words I find when I’m having a nice time out with my brother. Kitty told me ‘Karen come up with a poem.’ She’s more of a poet. She said, ‘It’s going to be good for the NIAD center, let’s try it.’” 

Karen’s family is deeply important to her and continues to be an inspiration for her across materials. Often, she draws portraits of her mother with colored pencils or creates works for her brother. Karen uses her art as a “memory tool.” Sharing about one drawing, she says “This is a picture of my mom and me. My mom’s name was Madeleine May, my father was Wallace G May. My father and mother are up in heaven now. If I have to remember my mom I can draw a picture of my mom. One way or the other I’m always thinking of my mom.” 

Another significant subject for Karen’s work are cats. She walks us through her process by sharing, “Well first I draw the head, that’s always the first part, oh you draw the body then. Then you draw the whiskers up. Last she draws in the tail.” Karen is also enthusiastic about creating cats in clay: “I made it out of clay and kitty said it looked so pretty. But also kitty told me that it wasn’t done and you needed to add a head, the eyes, also the ears, the nose and the mouth. Kitty said ‘how about a hat?” 

Karen has a sharp eye for fashion and loves working in fiber arts, including dress making and doll making: “Sometimes I make fashion dresses. I try to be easy with myself. Sometimes I make a picture of something, maybe Karen or her mother or a dress.” In addition to her interest in fashion, Karen enjoys the rhythm of working by hand on a loom, sharing “One of the things she does at the center is weaving, over and under, over and under. Some of it I do by hand, I go knitting along the way.”

When asked how she would like to end her artist statement, Karen reflected, “The way she sees it is we need love in different ways. Be nice to one another.” Another idea that came to her was ending on a poem that she frequently recites, “Roses are red/violets are blue/sugar is sweet and so are you.”


Exhibition Highlights

Salad Days // Personal Space Gallery Vallejo // July 2023

Into the Brightness: Artists from Creativity Explored, Creative Growth & NIAD // Oakland Museum of California // May 2023

Feeling Language, organized by Kate Laster // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // October 2022

Soft Material // Berkeley Art Center // September 2022

NIAD x Mills // Mills Building, San Francisco // February–June 2022

Through My Eyes // organized By Scott Hewicker and Cliff Hengst NIAD Art Center 2020 

Good On Paper organized by Erin McCluskey Wheeler // NIAD Art Center 2020


1 of 10