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Karen Marsteller Nash



Everybody has to start somewhere.

Iphegenia (ca.1955)


Carved from a stick with my Brownie Scout knife, this was my first exhibited sculpture, which took 3rd in the Adult Novice class, and was bought by a collector of primitive art. At the age of 12, my artistic career was launched!

Artist's statement:

When trash talks, I listen. It tells me how to reconstruct it, giving it new life as sculpture. The native shapes of the salvaged substances suggest new configurations, sometimes influenced by the art of ancient civilizations which used the materials at hand to depict facets of their culture. I'm fond of reflective surfaces, transparency, and the eloquence of negative space. And I have a love/hate relationship with Styrofoam, with its paradoxical ability to occupy large amounts of space with very little substance (not unlike some public figures). My ambition is to repurpose as much single-use "disposable" material as possible in my time on this fragile earth, our island home.


The Great Goddess / World Tree

World Tree view

Photo courtesy of Vid Mars

About this group of assemblages:

I have a deep affection for the beautiful Mexican state of Oaxaca and its wonderful people, who have given me a profound appreciation of their ancient heritage, and of the traditional arts that are practiced today just as they were centuries ago, using the resources that abound in the Valley of Oaxaca.

Monte Alban: Transfer of Power

expanded polystyrene

Inspired by stele VGE-2 at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Great Goddess / World Tree

The Great Goddess view

Photo courtesy of Vid Mars

The elaborate mosaics of "The Great Goddess / World Tree" were excised and pieced together from produce and meat trays from the supermarket, as were the tomb panel pieces depicting the mighty Jaguar Ocelotl and the Owl Tecolotl. Tombs are of great importance in Oaxaca, where departed loved ones return during the Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), one of the most profound celebrations I have ever experienced. 

Tomb Panel: Tecolotl (Owl)

Styrofoam packing elements and grocery trays

The remaining piece, "Quetzalcoatl" (above), also came from a Dumpster - he's made from a reconfigured diner chair, a bone fragment, vintage buttons (his fetching green eyes), and red "feathers" that cushioned the innards of network printers during shipment.

All of the Styrofoam pieces in this group are constructed from salvaged expanded polystyrene packing materials, and altogether represent about half a small Dumpster load of waste. Formed Styrofoam has most of the surface characteristics of granite or sandstone, which allows me to produce  realistic "stone" carvings, and the molded shapes suggest the niches and angles of ancient structures. In the spirit of true assemblage, most of the large Styrofoam elements are "as found."

Tomb Panel: Ocelotl (Jaguar)

Styrofoam packing elements and grocery trays

PackMan and Polly Styrene

 . .

These three Styrofoam figures were the first of my work with expanded polystyrene salvaged from dumpsters. As Commoner's Second Law of Ecology states: "Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no 'waste' in nature and there is no 'away' to which things can be thrown." (Commoner, The Closing Circle, 1971).


Out of the Box, Into the Ecosphere

Styrofoam packing pieces, bottle caps, wine corks

Icarus (left), true to my favorite methodology, is an assemblage. Seven sets of wings were cast in wax from the same mold, then modified with a torch. Once cast, the wings were welded to the slender, curving stem, which is anchored to a fierce chunk of bronze that forms the base of the piece - products of overpour or mold blowouts. When all the parts were assembled, I applied various chemicals to create a patina that went from bright bronze at the base to scorched black at the apex. Then I took Icarus to the beach to get these pictures with the sky and sun providing the perfect setting.

All Hell Cut Loose a Few Steps Out of Frame
Welded scrap steel