Karen Olanna is a local Nome artist known for her sculptures and her relief prints. She began her career with a focus on sculpture, starting with and apprenticeship in wood relief carving in Norway. Her studies continued and her carving experience increased when she then attended the Native Carving shop at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Woodcut printing is a type of relief carving and both mediums are tactile methods involving the shaping and manipulation of different surfaces. An understanding of the materials is key to their expression and Olanna acquits herself with admirable skill with keen insight into the fundamental nature of both her subjects and the medium.


Influenced from a myriad of sources, Olanna draws from Greek myth, Alaskan shamanistic transformations and ancient goddess imagery as well as a variety of animals and human characteristics. From the depths of an owl’s eye to the flick of a mermaid’s tale, Olanna’s subjects are heavy with swirling, circular contours. The shape of the spiral is one that illustrates the cycles of expansion, out from a beginning point and, simultaneously, the flow back to the source. In this manner, the constitutive shapes of the images reflect Olanna’s own exploration into creation, life and divinity. Her subjects take shape yet remain rooted to the surroundings forming balanced, dynamic and interconnected compositions. In her hands the lines separating nature, myth and the human condition become blurred and instead the connections are revealed.


Exploring the full spectrum of human nature, Olanna illustrates the harsh realities of survival, the nurturing presence of a parent, the mystic apparitions of supernatural beings and the humble joys of berry picking. From figures that are soft and insubstantial as a cloud to those that are sharp and penetrating like a knife, she explores the foundations of existence that are manifest in, yet transcend, myth and legend.

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