April 2018 – Kari Halker-Saathoff

The Stats

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Name: Kari Ogland Halker-Saathoff
Current Location: Edina, Minnesota
Education:BS from University of Wisconsin – Stout, MA from University of Saint Mary’s
Preferred Medium(s): Illustration and Clay
Children (ages and genders): Avery, 17,male (senior in high school) In the fall Avery will be attending the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and will be studying Special Education.
Harrison, 20 and is a 2018 VSA (Very Special Artist) Minnesota Jerome emerging artist, a VSA Kennedy Center 2017 emerging artist, and a two time National Scholastic winner. Harrison is an artist who happens to have autism.
Website address(es): https://www.facebook.com/UpsideRightStudio/

The Questions

What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you now, etc.)?



I am from Edina, Minnesota and I currently live in there. I did leave to teach in Green Bay Wisconsin for a couple of years but returned to raise my kids here. I grew up in a family where we went to churches, museums and galleries on a regular basis. I had a very different childhood than most. My mother is an artist, writer, and musician. My father was a school speech and language pathologist and clinical director at Camp Courage. At the time, Camp Courage was a camp for kids with communication disorders and is still a camp for children and adults with physical disabilities. I grew up there in the summers and eventually became the program director. That experience gave me the opportunity to see how people learn, modify and create in all types of mediums. I also learned how to take photographs, develop, and print by the age of 12.

Currently, I am a high school art teacher and department chair at St. Michael-Albertville high school. I’ve taught just about everything in my twenty-two years as an educator. Teaching is my calling and it helps me stay current and energetic. I strive to be the best art educator I can be and I’m very fortunate that St. Michael-Albertville school district is so supportive of Art Education. I know that I’ve helped forge that bond with the administration.

familyI am married to a jewelry designer, sculptor and teacher, Danny Saathoff. It’s a balancing act of managing my family, job, my art career, and my son career/life.

Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?

I come from a family of educators so learning was always high on the priority list for experiences provided by my parents. I try and instill that in my kids along with my creative work. As lifelong learners, I feel that we should remain curious. I still take classes to further my own work and to pass along that information to my students. Both of my kids are creative and have many artistic accolades on the young resumes. Both are National Scholastic Art winners and Harrison is a Kennedy Center VSA Artist, one of 15 chosen from across the country. He is also a Jerome Foundation grant recipient and was chosen to have one of his pieces to be on display in the US embassy in Greece through the Art in Embassies program. I also believe that my experience growing up and working at Camp Courage helped me learn compassion and empathy for others which helps with both my kids and my students.



Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?

Yes, my childhood friend Melissa Castino Reid. Melissa is an incredible mother, runner, diabetic, adjunct college English and reading instructor, native Minnesotan, and a Bus of Hope Driver. Her young daughter contracted E.Coli in 2011; two strokes followed, affecting her speech and walking. Melissa has worked incredibly hard to keep up her practice of writing about her story, which will be a best seller someday. Melissa is very humble and when ever we see each other she always wants to talk about me and my family. Melissa is always positive and upbeat and that is very infectious.


Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare? How did you navigate making artwork?


She Persisted

When my first son was born, I was a young teacher and I didn’t have more than 10 sick days at my job. My husband at the time was going to school and we were broke so I went back to work immediately. That was the situation with both of my kids, however, at the birth of my second child, I was in the middle of my masters degree and Harrison had just been diagnosed with autism. On top of all of that, I was getting a divorce. I was very lucky that my parents helped with childcare. At the time, the artwork that I created was mostly sample pieces for student’s projects. I didn’t create very much of my own work. I was buried with teaching, raising the boys and doing laundry. I really didn’t start creating art for me again until I was reunited with my college boyfriend and now husband. Danny encouraged me to create. It was a good time for both of us because neither of us was making art. We began this winding journey as artists again together. It was nice to have someone who believed in me and it helped to build my confidence again. Harrison’s diagnosis consumed me and left little time or energy for anything else. Once I found balance, it all clicked into place.


The Unseen Universe

The Unseen Universe

When children are babies or small kids it is hard to imagine them one day leaving for their own independent lives. How has parenting changed you as your children become teenagers and begin to consider leaving home? How do you see this shift impacting your professional practice? Has it shaped the work you are making now? If so, how?

My youngest Avery will be heading off to college in the fall and Harrison will be living with us until who knows when. I don’t believe my parenting has changed but it has evolved. I am in a much different situation than most. Having a child with a disability gives you a different perspective about life and my practice of creating art. I push myself to create but I also know it’s okay when I don’t. Meeting the needs of Harrison takes priority over my own artistic needs. But now that the boys are getting older and more independent, I do find that I have more time for myself and my work. My husband and I relish our time working in the studio.

family 2It’s interesting, both of my kids are very talented artist but the more I worked with them in the practice of art, Harrison’s interest seemed to bloom. For Avery, creating is more of interest rather than a need. I do feel Avery will remain interested in art but his passion is elsewhere. Along with my husband, I often ask Harrison for feedback. For instance, Harrison is very well read and like many kids with autism, can be a wealth of knowledge on very obscure topics. While creating my most recent body of work which is a modern interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey, I often asked Harrison for his insight and analysis of the story. His observations were always very colorful and helped me shape the narrative.

You have a son with special needs who is also a talented artist in his own right. Can you talk about his disability/ability? How have his needs changed you as a mother and as an artist? What has he taught you? Can you talk about how art has impacted his life? How has his art impacted your life and practice?

Heartsick on the open Sea- Make his name by sailing there

Heartsick on the open Sea- Make his name by sailing there

Autism is a mixed ball of wax. We have really good days and really bad days and you can’t predict how the day will go. Different things can throw him off but Harrison is a magical kid. He is so incredibly genuine that he sucks you in with his kindness and insightfulness. World events affect him deeply and we do have to shelter him from the news. Harrison doesn’t have the skills to navigate the art-world and I do my very best to help make him successful. Along with the accolades I described earlier, he has also had several smaller shows and he has had his first solo show at the Wilder Foundation in Minneapolis and they acquired one of his photographs for their permanent collection.

Harrison has taught me kindness, patience, and to believe your gut. As excited as I am about my current body of work and upcoming show, Harrison always comes first. I’ve built a website for him and yet I do not have one. Harrison’s work is more important than my own in many ways. His work is his way to educate the world on how he fits in. Below is his artist statement:

“I have autism and I see the world very differently than most. I notice the smallest details that most people ignore – people have a tendency to ignore me because I have a disability. One way I see myself existing in this world is by capturing my reflection in everyday scenarios. Because my autism can be a barrier for me to relate to the “normal” world, when I capture my reflection in a window, the glass acts as a barrier to whatever is behind the window. In my artwork, the thing behind the reflection is my representation of the normal world and I am caught in another plane that runs parallel to the world in which everyone else lives. By capturing my image in this “in between” state, I’m re-inventing myself in a way that the outside world cannot ignore me anymore. By looking at my work, I am present in their world. Being present is what motivates me to create”. – Harrison Halker Heinks.

Nothing Feebler Than a Man - Fraught with Grave Foreboding

Nothing Feebler Than a Man – Fraught with Grave Foreboding

You have been working at St. Michael Albertville Schools (STMA) since 1997. Can you talk about your experience working with K-12 students? Is there an age that is most exciting for you as a teacher? Why? How has your teaching experience shaped your studio practice?

I have always felt my calling was to be an art teacher. I love working with all kids , but especially high school students. Teaching high school art can be very stressful, but also very rewarding. What I love about working with high school students is that they are curious and want to learn. Watching students grow creatively over the years in high school continuously pushes me to want to create as well and I learn from them as much as they learn from me.

Several years ago, one of my very gifted Advanced Placement students said to me, “Miss Halker! You want us to complete this assignment by the end of the weekend!? Why don’t you do the project as too?” Well, I did, because I have to walk the walk as well. I push my students and they push me. I ask for suggestions, collaborate, and critique. I want all my students to feel that they are part of the community that is my room. I strive to make that room a safe environment to create and the more connections they make the more they feel a part of the school.

potLiterary stories and narratives are often source materials and/or appear in your creative work. Why does the written/spoken word draw you in? What do you take from this source material? Why are stories important to you as an artist? What story is next?

I have always been fascinated with stories of adventure. But who isn’t? My imagination runs wild. Even as a child, I would look up to the sky and wonder what kind of adventures were happening in the clouds. I could visualize the scenes playing out in my mind.

One of the benefits to illustrating and interpreting the written word is that I do not have to create the story. As an artist working in this manner, I can focus my attention on the imagery. But for me, the story is just a place to start. As the images develop, my interpretation is allowed to follow its own path. Like the pre-raphaelites, I love to add hidden symbolism into my work.

The classics like Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s Odyssey are my most recent interpretations, but my next project will likely revolve around Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

You have a show, The Long Journey, opening at the Canton Museum of Art this month. The work is your re-imagination/interpretation of the Odyssey told through drawings and vessels. Tell us more about how you arrived at this story? How will the viewer inter act with the object in the exhibition? What parallels do you see between the present and 650 B.C.E.?



I re-imagine the timeless and transcendent story of The Odyssey, a story that has stayed with me through the years. In the Odyssey, among his many adventures, Odysseus encounters the land of the lotus eaters, a battle with a Cyclops, a trip to Hades, temptations of deadly sirens, fights with sea monsters, and an affair with a witch. While Odysseus is widely considered the hero of the Odyssey, for me, Penelope has always been the more remarkable character. Keeping her suitors at bay with her ability to outwit them and holding strong to her beliefs while Odysseus succumbs to temptation, Penelope is in fact my hero.

In creating my interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey, the twelve vessels represent Penelope’s remarkable story, and the twelve drawings tell the story of Odysseus. The bodies of the vessels stay the same, but the necks of the pots grow – representing Penelope’s years of waiting for Odysseus’ return. In both the vessels and the drawings, there are subtle hints of foreshadowing as well as images from the past. The placement of the vessels between the drawings, forces the viewer to circle each piece in order to experience Penelope’s struggles.

For many, even those who have not read the Odyssey, Odysseus’ adventures are part of our cultural knowledge. Given this familiarity, I have chosen to depict his journey within the mythological time period. In contrast, I have chosen to align Penelope’s heroic journey within the present context of female struggle and empowerment.

While many of the illustration titles are inspired by the text of The Odyssey, the titles accompanying each of Penelope’s vessels are inspired by the Women’s March of 2017, as well as current news stories. My ambition for this show is to illuminate the many parallels between the present and 650 B.C.E.

Halloween, nils wedding, sailing picture 2004 022On our sailboat olo2Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities (ex. Running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, volunteering, etc.) outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find that they feed your practice? If so how?

Professionally, I am becoming more actively involved in Art Educators of Minnesota.

Personally, our family has a sailboat on Lake Superior. I have a love/hate relationship with sailing. Sailing is about the journey, but that journey sometimes scares the crap out of me. But there is nothing better in this world when you have arrived at your destination and you’re sitting in the cockpit anchored and watching the sunset and enjoying the peace. That feeds my soul.

Anything else we should know or be on the lookout for in the near future?

Besides my first solo exhibition at the Canton Museum of Art nothing else at the moment. Once the show comes down in Ohio I will be shopping it around regionally. Harrison will have some photographs at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis opening April 21, 2018.

The Phaiakians

The Phaiakians

Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
Everything But the Girl – Lonesome for a Place I Know
James Taylor and Carol King -You Can Close Your Eyes
Harry Chapin – Mr. Tanner
U2 – It’s a Beautiful Day