Fiber Artist Karen Madden Finds Inspiration in Pages of Hudson Valley Magazine

A local artist uses Hudson Valley Magazine as inspiration for her new gallery pieces

Here at Hudson Valley, we find constant inspiration from people and places around the region. Yet we were pleasantly surprised to learn that a local artist, Karen Madden, uses our magazine — that’s right, us! — as inspiration for her art. Based out of Poughquag, Madden has been so inspired she’s created not one, but three pieces of fiber art. We caught up with the talented craftswoman to learn more about her process.

This is flattering! What inspired you to use Hudson Valley [as a source of inspiration]?
Karen Madden: One of the techniques I learned for stimulating creativity is to go and randomly pick up a magazine and randomly pick a page and take what you see on the page and interpret it and create with it. I wanted something that gave a lot of colorful images. And, because I subscribe, I love the articles and generally there’s at least one or two or three really interesting, great pictures of the Hudson Valley. The very first one was the March 2014 issue and I opened up to this picture of the modern dancers. The women had these bright red lips. I said, “Wow, that could be fun.” I didn’t want to do something figuratively, so I did an abstract and I named it after the piece, which was called “Dynamic Dance.” Then I came across a couple months later, “Homegrown.” That one actually had meaning to me because my husband grew up in the Pine Island area across the river. He looked at the picture and said “Oh my god, I remember fields like this.” I had the right fiber in my stash and that one just came flowing out. Now I don’t do that exclusively but I do find that’s a fun thing to do. It stimulates my creativity. There’s connection there, being a Hudson Valley artist.

artist karen maddenArtist Karen Madden of Rock and a Soft Place Studios finds inspiration from a variety of sources, including this very magazine

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How many pieces have you made using HV Mag?
KM: I’ve done three so far. I have a pile of every magazine. We just got the issue the other day and there was a peach drink on the page and I said, “Oh this will be fun.” “Birdland” was my most recent one. That one came from an issue last fall, which was actually an article on artists in Kingston creating artwork around birds. The first one on the opening page, which I lucked out and picked, was a peacock. I had this brilliant peacock-colored fiber. It just came together. It was fun and quick. I was looking for something a little different, but something I could work on for a couple days and that was the piece.

Related: Peach Barrel Cocktail Recipe, the Inspiration for Karen’s Next Piece

How long have you been working as an artist?
Full-time for the last nine years. This is my second career; I was a chemist at IBM for 32 years before I retired. My whole life has been fiber. I grew up in a household where my mother, my grandmother, and my aunts were all fiber artists. Most of their work was in clothes-making, because we grew up on a farm in upstate New York, and you made your own clothes then. My mom was an amazing seamstress, upholsterer, drapery maker. That’s what she did, and so I learned that way. While I was working full-time for IBM, I knitted a lot and I designed sweaters; most of them were for friends and family. I always kept myself involved with fiber in some way, shape, or form because that’s my passion.

Has your past work as a chemist inspired your art at all?
Well, yes actually. I did one show at Tivoli Artists’ Co-op a couple years ago in which I was the co-curator with my husband, Bob Madden, who’s a stone sculptor. We did a show called “When Art Meets Science.” We both have technical backgrounds. Some of the artwork I’ve done there was based around mathematical equations. I like to employ some metals into my work. In fact, “Dynamic Dance” has copper embedded in the fiber itself. Copper is a very wonderful metal, but it will tarnish. I’ve spent years trying to perfect the exact mechanism to protect the copper so it doesn’t tarnish — I haven’t always been successful! But I have been able to manipulate it [using my knowledge of chemistry] to tarnish the way I want it to tarnish, as opposed to how it wants to tarnish. The other thing I’ve used my chemistry background for is in the felting process, which is how I create my canvas many times. I will take 100% wool yarn and knit it up into large pieces. I have a manual knitting machine that I assembled myself. You take that and put it into a washing machine with hot water and just the right amount of detergent; you want a certain pH of the water so that when you do that, it felts and it shrinks the wool.

dynamic dance ballet hispanico

“Dynamic Dance” (left) was inspired by our March 2014 events page opener of the same name, featuring Ballet Hispanico. Photographs by Lori Adams (left) and Paula Lobo (right)

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Is Gallery 66 the only place that you’re currently showing your work?
At the moment. Although I do enter juried shows. Right now I’m in a show out in Greeley, Colorado called Fiber Celebration 2015. They have this every year. It’s a national juried show. One of my pieces is currently out there. And I’ve been in the show before; I’ve had accepted pieces. I’m always looking for other shows to enter around the country. I like doing that because it gets my artwork exposure to other areas.

Is Rock and a Soft Place studio your exclusive studio?
KM: It is. It’s actually a studio with my husband. So when we formed the studio nine years ago we were looking for a name that could incorporate both of our passions, our artwork, and that’s how we came up with Rock and a Soft Place. One of the things I do is the ArtEast open studio tour. Both my husband and I participate in that. We open up our studio for people to stop by two weekends in October and come and talk to us and see what we do.

Do you have plans for future shows?
KM: I just found out that I’m going to be in a juried show on the last weekend of May in Garnerville at Garner Arts Center. That’s in what used to be an old factory building. They used to have a show every year until one of their buildings got badly damaged a few years ago in one of the hurricanes. This is going to be their start-up show. It’s focused on textiles because the factory used to be a textile factory.

That’s so exciting!
Yeah, it’s great. I love it. At one time a few years ago I was applying to everything and I was getting into everything. I was doing nothing but shipping things or driving someplace to deliver them. It was too much. I wanted to spend more time on my artwork, which is really the fun part.

What can you tell us about the show at Gallery 66?
I’m showing eight to 10 pieces. Three of them are [inspired by] Hudson Valley Magazine. The other ones are out of my mind. Most of the time they’re abstract, but I have done a few figurative things. I do tend to go all over the place just because that’s how I like to do it. I’ll see inspiration in a rug someplace and say, “That looks interesting. Let me see what I can do with that.”

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If you go…

In My Life Exhibition by Karen Madden
When: May 1-31. Thursdays through Sundays from 12-6 p.m. Opening reception Friday, May 1 from 6-9 p.m.
Where: Gallery 66, 66 Main St., Cold Spring
Cost: Free
Details: 845-809-5838;

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