Karen Brueggemann has been creating objects of art her whole life. She has been selling her creative works since she was in junior high school.
But it has been only since she and Ted, her husband of 54 years, began their move to Cedaredge 10 years ago that Karen really began to think of herself as an artist.
"I have a strong impetus to create," Karen says. "Creating is something that I have just got to do."
But, perhaps surprisingly, even with decades of work in her portfolio she said, "For a long time I didn't think of myself as an artist. I denied that I was an artist."
Then while packing up boxes with photographs of the many works she had completed over the years she realized, "I really am an artist. That's what I was put here for."
Since that time, her artistic enterprise has expanded into a wholly new medium for her -- polymer clay -- a big departure from the large works of copper, paintings and watercolors she has produced. Though her polymer clay medium is relatively new to her, she still uses it to express favorite themes of the American Southwest from the years she and Ted lived south of Albuquerque.
Karen discovered polymer clay when she signed up for a class being offered by artist Tish Collins. Only two students enrolled in the sessions. They set themselves to learning about polymer clay with some of the most personalized, attentive instruction that any art student could hope to have.
The course was scheduled for eight hours, and after the first four hours Karen says, "I was hooked. I had gotten it with the polymer clay medium. I was inspired by it." That was about eight years ago.
It has been a remarkably productive departure for Karen in her long art career. Working with polymer clay keeps her busy for hours at a time in the upstairs studio she has in her log home north of Cedaredge. She and Ted have two grown children and a daughter-in-law who is considered a daughter, too. There are two grandchildren to help keep family gatherings lively.
Karen has more time now for her new art since retiring in January from 45 years of displaying her work around the country at shows and art fairs. During those years she showed artwork at Bellevue, Wash., Baltimore, San Juan Capistrano, Austin, Texas, and throughout the Midwest. Now she is selling in galleries. "The arts and craft shows are a lot of work, but it has been a good career," she says.
She also displays work on Pinterest. She said she has many photos of her jewelry and wall art made from polymer clay. One of her photos on Pinterest has been "repinned" over 1,400 times, she said.
For a time in the 1980s, she and her daughter had a specialty screen printing business making prints for other artists.
Polymer clay is a manmade substance that cures at 275 to 300 degrees. Small works in polymer clay can be cured in a toaster oven at far lower temperatures than earthen clay. Polymer clay is available in over 50 colors. It is lightweight, durable and colorfast after it is cured.
Dramatic effects of color and pattern combinations are possible working with polymer clay. Karen uses various techniques of layering, extruding and blending the material to achieve the visual interactions the material is capable of producing.
Karen makes the shapes for jewelry using simple tools and usually finishes them off by hand. The common pasta machine "is a polymer clay artist's best friend," she says. It is used to soften the clay and to create the thin sheets which are the basis for creating "cones" from which many of the designs are created.
She enjoys the community of artists who work in the medium. "The polymer clay community is a very sharing community," she says. They like to talk about their work and gather in groups to share ideas and techniques. Karen says it's a "fun challenge to figure out how another artist has done something" in polymer clay.
"I wish I had discovered this 30 years ago. It is all an artist needs -- three-dimensional color! What else could an artist ask for?" she says.
Her friendship with artist Ella Kelly is one of the best things that has come from being involved with the ImpressionZ Gallery at Cedaredge, she says. The arts community gives support and encouragement to artists.
Her work is displayed at other galleries as well -- at Albuquerque, Sedona, Blue Pig at Palisade, Pagosa Springs, Edwards and Pioneer Town.
Her creative imagination just keeps clicking with the medium and has been doing so ever since her first lessons.