The Karen Aqua Gallery (a remembrance by Cecily Miller)
Raised in a small town in Pennsylvania, Karen discovered animation at Rhode Island School of Design, where she became fascinated by its potential to bring imagined worlds to life. "Once I saw my drawings move," she told The Boston Globe in 1994, "it was a big magical connection." She made 13 independent films - magical films - over the next 35 years, mostly by hand. Karen was prolific, creating hundreds of thousands of drawings and cut-outs. Her films were distinctive for their rhythm and musicality; their diverse soundtracks were frequently created by her husband and collaborator, composer Ken Field. The two met by chance, under a lucky star, during a trip across the country, and forged a life-long partnership.
Karen balanced countless hours of solitary time in the studio with an adventurous life filled with collaboration, music, dance, travel, love, friendships, and joy - all of which you can see woven through her art. In addition to her award- winning personal work, she made 22 films for Sesame Street and taught at Emerson and Boston Colleges and during community-based educational projects. Karen's vital and creative spirit will be missed by the wide community of people she touched and often brought together. We will remember her beautiful smile and welcoming warmth, her curiosity, humor and sense of play, her generosity and concern for others, and, of course, her inimitable way with color, patterns, feathers and sequins.
Karen died 10 years after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Her courage in the face of this disease was remarkable. True to form she was productive to the end, completing a final film and, just a week before her death, winning a prestigious Artist Fellowship Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. One day before she died, Karen's friend Isabel sent her this message, a tribute to the strength of Karen's spirit and vision:
Although you are back in the hospital again, with machines all around, I know that all the world is there in your mind's eye - the canyon walls with their pictographs coming to life, the sun and sand, the flowering cactus, the ticking insects with painted backs, dancing birds with long legs and tufted heads, the sea and waves and breezes - all of creation humming away.