Karen Sue Wheeler is an award-winning American artist who was born with a form of Muscular Dystrophy known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. She uses a small brush and very little pigment that creates a dry-brush effect that resembles colored pencil. Each painting that she produces takes from 80-500 hours to complete. She developed a unique sling-like device that she wears on her arm to assist her with wielding her tools, rather a brush, pencil or pen. Joel Geist Video created a portrait of Karen. The film has captured her views on her artwork, some of her techniques of working with watercolor, and it shows a phenomenal amount of her work and accomplishments.
Karen hides or places a rose in every painting completed after 1986. It represents her in her work, and it is one of the most loved and accepted flowers in societal and visual terms. When she relates the rose to herself and her life, she also considers the strength and the thorns. Therefore, when people view Karen’s work they not only feel her presence, they accept her and enjoy her work for the pleasure it brings.
Todd Kerns, bassist for Slash’s band was the subject of one of Karen’s paintings, “In Todd We Trust”:
“Karen is one of those living examples that art and creativity flow through those who are chosen as their vessel. It is awe inspiring. I always marvel at every new piece she creates. Her unique creativity and humor always shines through as only a truly inspired artist can do.”
From 1985 to 1991 Karen was the only disabled artist on the Board of Directors of VSA Arts California, a non-profit organization dedicated to integrating mentally and physically challenged adults and children into society via the arts. She not only coordinated and participated in major statewide exhibits and programs but also held the position of Vice President. She is still on the Honorary Board. Karen was selected Disabled Professional Woman of the Year by the Pilot Club of Southeast Los Angeles in 1990.
Karen now resides in Henderson, Nevada and is currently the only surviving professional artist in Southern Nevada with a neuromuscular disease. She has collectors who live all over the world, a list of which includes Julian Lennon, Phil Collins, Shadoe Stevens, Justin Hayward, Joan Rivers, Damon Wayans and Steven Segal.
Karen is a lifetime member of the Vegas Artists Guild where she served on the Board of Directors for 11 years. In addition, she served three years on the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and considers herself an advocate for those less fortunate. She also co-created with William Schnell in 2012 a site to assist people with disabilities called Go Hit Yourself. (www.GoHitYourself.com)