Karen E. Griffin, known as Art by .E Lewis, is a self - taught textile artist. Incorporating the traditions of quilting, Karen creates narratives inspired by the histories of Afro-Americans, with the purpose of engaging, empowering and educating her audience. Karen is also co-author of the book The Life I Love. Griffin's artwork is on display at the Gardner Library until April 21, 2022.
Introduce yourself and tell us about the work on exhibit.
My name is Karen E. Griffin (KE) and I am the Artist Art by .E Lewis. I attended local schools and community centers in the Kansas City, Missouri metro area. I’m a self-taught textile artist due to the following feeding me knowledge and the purpose of ART: my mother, 7th grade art teacher Gwendolyn Cook and master artist Billy Hayes at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Greater Kansas City. In 2020 – 2021, I designed, curated and installed 14 textile exhibitions.
Inspiration behind the four textile panels was due to my reenactment of Ida B. Wells-Barnett in alliance with the 1920 Shawnee Town Museum, August 2021. The black, cream and red panel is titled: “Newspaper Article”. It was implemented along with three other textiles in honor of Ida’s journey as a journalist, investigator and crusader in Memphis. The red, black and green panel was handcrafted to honor the Afro-American Flag implemented on August 13, 1920. It was on display at the Black Archives of Mid-American with fifteen other textiles. The African fabric and blue panels were created due to research with applying cotton on canvas.
Do the traditional aspects of quilting contribute to the story you tell with your textile pieces?
Yes, traditional aspects of quilting contribute and play a very important role within my summary of work. At a young age watching my mother form quilt tops stimulated me to explore the art form. As a textile and performing artist, quilting motivated me to create seams and stories exhibits about my ancestors unFINISHED stories in america.
What’s the most challenging thing about your creative process?
The most challenging thing about my creative process is waiting on my creative ancestors to guide me with implementing and completing the assignment.
Who do you consider your main artistic influences?
Selina O’Neal is my main artistic influence, she informed me in 2017 that I have the capability of creating art. At the time, I didn’t understand what she was referring to until September 2020. Selina’s words of encouragement and support inspired me to launched my first solo textile exhibition.
What is your most important artistic tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My most important artistic tool is my mother’s measuring tape. I remember her using it to measure her clients and fabric to sew outfits. I’m honored to use the same artistic tool to measure fabric to create textiles for exhibitions. I can’t think or generate without my sewing machine or scissors in my studio. Taking good care of my goods increase by ability to produce and explore new methods.
What books, movies and/or music have inspired you recently?
Quilting, home décor and jazz books inspire me with obtaining new ideas and techniques. Documents and autobiographies about Afro-American women inspire me to form textiles depicting their journey in america. I enjoy listening to Nina Simone and Etta James to engage and empower my creative processes with designing and performing.