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Karla Nolen

County: Jefferson County



Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) 2023
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Karla Nolen (Sun’aq) was born in 1955 to her Aleut father and Celtic mother. She grew up in Suquamish territory and was raised by her mother and paternal grandmother, who taught her to appreciate beauty and hard work. She became a hairstylist and was in practice for 45 years before devoting herself full time to her beading after she retired. Karla is self taught, and through many trials and errors she completed her first piece without guidance in 2019 and has since created 12 total of varying design. Her artistic process begins with a deep respect for the materials she uses, which include natural fibers, ethically sources leather, and high quality beads. She draws on a range of traditional motifs, but also incorporates contemporary elements and personal touches to make each piece her own. For Karla, the process of creating these pieces is both meditative and transformative, as she connects with the traditions of her ancestors and explores her own creative impulses. As an artist specializing in Alutiiq beaded headdresses, Karla’s work is a tribute to the rich culture, heritage and artistic traditions of the Aleutian Islands. She strives to create pieces that honor and preserve these traditions while also incorporating her own unique vision. Her pieces pay homage to her ancestors, and the wonder she felt when she first saw an Aleut woman in full regalia. Each allows her to delve into an issue, from the sustenance of female friendship to the tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women.

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Image: Peggy Piacenza, 2024 Fellowship Recipient

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