Like many with artistic tendencies, Karen Godfrey pushed her passion for art aside when it came to selecting a career. Instead of going to art school, she earned a master’s degree in social work from Grand Valley State University and worked as a therapist helping her clients “create recovery” from cancer and other challenges. She did this work for five years before realizing she needed to start taking her own advice. “I was telling these people to make art every day,” she said. “I was encouraging them, but I wasn’t doing it myself.” So, she enrolled in an oil painting class and fell in love with the medium. Little by little, she started painting more and meeting with clients less.
In 2003, she took the plunge and opened Art Beat, an art gallery she owned and operated in Grand Rapids until 2008. She featured the work of other artists, taught art therapy workshops and built a community around artwork that told stories about healing and self-reflection.
Her gallery was unique because she didn’t send artists away if the perspective in one of their paintings was off. “What was most important to me is that it had some message,” she said.
After five years operating the gallery, Godfrey was ready to make another change.
“I said I was opening the gallery to spend more time on my art, but then the gallery took over,” she said. “And I was spending time promoting other artists more than myself.”
In 2008, Godfrey closed her gallery and moved her art studio to her home, where she has been busy making mixed-media assemblages ever since. Godfrey said she has no regrets about closing her gallery, but misses the Eastown community. “I loved who I was connected with, but I knew I had to do this for myself,” she said. “When I closed the gallery it was my last step to becoming a full-time artist.”
Looking inwardGodfrey said she works in her studio nearly every day and is enjoying the “alone time” she has to create.
“It’s like I’ve given myself permission to be less outgoing and more introspective,” she said. “To do something that is just for myself is difficult.”
Godfrey’s art therapy skills came full circle last spring when she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma before leaving on a six-week trip to exhibit her work at DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun in Tucson, Ariz. Her doctor cleared her to delay treatment, but Godfrey said she had no idea that doctors would have to remove 75 percent of her right lower eye lid when she returned home. Then, to give her skin graft time to heal, her right eye was sewn shut for five weeks.
During this time, Godfrey created two assemblages exploring vision and shadow themes.
“I had to ask myself, ‘What am I not seeing in my life?’” she said. “Little did I realize ... I wasn’t seeing the good in myself. ... I was not acknowledging that I am gifted.”
Committing to her artwork full time has started to pay off for Godfrey, whose assemblages have been accepted to several galleries, including the Cycling Salamander gallery, just south of Charlevoix.
Godfrey is one of many local artists participating in ArtPrize. Her entry called “Art and Transformation: Healing Traditions Around the World” is on display in the window at the West Michigan Center for Art and Technology on East Fulton Street until Oct. 10.
Her personal transformation into an artist is surprising to some who didn’t recognize her passion for art earlier in her life.
“I didn’t even get good grades in art,” Godfrey said, recalling her high school classes that put more emphasis on life-like drawing skills and less on developing creativity working in other styles and mediums.
But Godfrey felt that compulsion to create that transfixes many who don’t pursue art as a career. Every time she had breaks between college classes or work, she would create art projects.
While it may have saved her time if she had realized she was an artist in bloom back in high school, Godfrey wouldn’t change a thing.
“This all happened for a reason the way it did,” she said. “I’m very thankful for my life experiences.”
Karen Godfrey’s art
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4
Where: Trinity Lutheran Church, 2700 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
What’s for sale: Godfrey’s assemblages and paintings, wood carvings, basketry, sculpture, pottery, and more work by other artists.
Where to find: Shop for Karen Godfrey’s art at Fire and Water Art Gallery, 219 W. Main St., Lowell.