Karen Karnes (November 17, 1925 – July 12, 2016) was a ceramic artist who lived and worked in New York City. She is recognized for her wheel thrown pieces, salt glazed pottery, and her lidded casserole dishes.
She attended Brooklyn College where she graduated with a major in design. She then traveled to Italy where she concentrated on her ceramics practice in Sesto Fiorentino, and learned how to use the potter’s wheel. Karnes later returned to New York where she started a graduate program at Alfred University to continue her study of ceramics. By 1952, Karnes, alongside her husband, David Weinrib, had a two-year residency at Black Mountain College where they studied and worked alongside artists John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Peter Voulkos.
By 1954, Karnes refined her craft and decided to relocate to Stony Point, New York, where she and her husband established the Gate Hill Cooperative with fellow potters and worked for 25 years. While there, she focused on creating pieces with functionality and developed her signature casserole dish.
In 1967, Karnes incorporated salt in her kiln firings while she was teaching at Penland School of Craft and would continue to use salt in her firings until a 1998 fire destroyed her kiln shed. She would continue to fire her work in wood-fueled kilns owned by her colleagues.
Karnes earned several awards and other accolades throughout her career, which includes the Artists’ Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976 and 1988, the American Craft Council’s Gold Medal of Highest Achievement in Craftsmanship in 1998, the Medal of Excellence from the Society of Arts and Crafts in 1990, and several more.