Sculpting the Natural World

Artist Karen Paden Crouch shapes and joins metals to create art pieces

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After more than 40 years of trial practice, KAREN PADEN CROUCH has fully transitioned from attorney to artist. Crouch began learning direct metal sculpture 30 years ago.

“I’ve always loved sculpture,” she says. “I’m fascinated how artists make something beautiful out of something hard like stone or metal.”

Crouch handled a few welding law cases, so she thought she’d try it. She took a class at Cape Fear Community College but was unable to finish due to the demands of practicing law.

“But I learned enough to not be afraid of the equipment,” Crouch says. She took a chance and purchased some tools, rods, and sheets of bronze. “I began cutting up parts and welding it together to make what I wanted. It’s a bit like blacksmithing to me. I beat it, shape it, and join it.”

A friend and fellow artist Mark Offerman offered Crouch a corner of his studio to work in. With his encouragement, she later moved into a space at Acme Art Studios.

Growing up, Crouch spent a lot of time in nature and reading. “We lived in a rural area and nothing was around us,” she says. She poured through Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. “I read what my grandparents read.”

Crouch explored the woods with her brother and found the architecture of trees, stumps, fiddlehead ferns, and how one plant leaned on another interesting.

“I respond to icons, spaces, small altars, spiritual symbols,” Crouch says. “There’s a reason to what I’ve created, but art means what it means to the receiver.”

Crouch says sculpture is harder for people to figure out how to use. Paintings go on a wall. Sculptures can be on a table or a mantle. But bronze can go outside and relate to its surroundings. Crouch’s pieces are organic for the home and garden. An avid gardener, she grounds her work in the structure and movement of living things.

Crouch’s public work can be found at Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, Airlie Gardens and The Davis Community. One of her favorites lives at Snipes Academy of Arts & Design. Crouch worked with an existing piece made of rebar and rusted cans located in front of the school. She used drawings made by the students, enlarged them, and cut them out of weathering steel. The metal “drawings” were then welded on the existing structure.

“It’s almost identical to the children’s artwork.”

Crouch is represented by Art in Bloom. She and artist ANGELA ROWE are preparing for an August show at the gallery. “What We Keep” is reflective of the current climate in the nation. “The pandemic has taught what really matters – the things we keep, our values, and hopes,” Crouch says. “We’ve been in in our houses a lot.” Primarily a painter, Rowe is creating houses out of clay and wheels are being added. “Wheels are a symbol of change and movement in Celtic mythology. These pieces show that home and place and the natural world are what really matters,” Crouch says.

“I loved being a lawyer and successfully and passionately advocated for my clients. But, it’s stressful. And you’re always advocating for someone else,” Crouch says of her career shift. “As an artist, you’re advocating for yourself.”

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to

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Categories: Culture