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Easel transition: Newcomer fits right into Vero arts scene

Boston-born artist Karen McFeaters has only lived in Vero Beach for about a year, moving here to be near her mother after her father passed away, but she has already made her mark on the local arts community. She says she is very glad that she joined the Vero Beach Art Club right away, commenting: “It has made a big difference.”

Most recently her work was chosen for the prestigious Best of the Best Juried Fine Art Exhibition at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery. She has also exhibited at Vero Beach Art Club shows, such as Art by the Sea, the Florida Wild Exhibit, the Member’s Invitational Exhibition, and the Plein Air Painters Art Show at Humiston Park. Her work has also been shown as part of the Treasure Coast Plein Air Group Show at the Main Street Vero Beach Gallery, and at the Pelican Island Conservation Society’s Indian River Bird and Nature Show.

McFeaters was exposed to art at an early age, with parents who would frequently bring the family to museums and art shows, and a grandmother in Rockford Mass., who would pack a lunch and art supplies so that she could spend the day honing her drawing and painting skills.

She studied painting and sculpture at Boston University, which she calls “an incredibly traditional structure, very rigid,” and sculpture at the Maine College of Art. However, commenting that she didn’t enjoy their teaching methods, she stepped away from art altogether for some 10 years.

“I then took a course in plein air at the Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park and had an amazing teacher,” says McFeaters, explaining that she lived in Orlando for a short time before moving back to Boston.

Once there, she threw herself full tilt into the arts scene and resided for a decade at the Midway Artist Studios, a work/live space in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, and was a member of the Fort Point Arts Community and the South Boston Arts Association.

“Even during COVID, the Boston art community was active, centered on the building I lived in, which was strictly for artists.”

Her work was exhibited at the Boston City Hall, the Boston Children’s Museum and the Spoke Gallery, among others, and a client following kept her busy with commissions for private and corporate collections of architectural paintings, landscapes and pet portraits.

She also enjoyed working on sculpture, as the 89-unit Midway Artist Studios were spacious enough to create all forms of art. It also drew a variety of disciplines, including artists, musicians and actors.

“It was a lot of fun. It gave me so much more confidence. I had never been around so many artists. I learned so much, how to sell art, and how to use social media,” says McFeaters.

Historical preservation soon captured her attention, and she began to paint the city’s older structures before they disappeared, often taking pictures of them first just in case. She also worked to save endangered buildings, so that even when their interiors were geared toward modern life, the historic street scene would remain intact.

For example, General Electric purchased a historic building complex, circa 1900, that had once been a candy factory. It had a series of connecting foot bridges that had enabled workers to cross to other buildings without going outside. When she heard that the major renovations G.E. planned involved removing the foot bridges, she went into action.

“I painted the foot bridges over and over and shared them on Twitter and Instagram and kept tagging General Electric. Finally, at our Open Studio Weekend, we were having a show, and one of the executives of General Electric came into my studio and told me, ‘Congratulations. We’re not going to tear down the foot bridges or the buildings,’” says McFeaters.

She was interviewed by the Boston Globe and, even better, says, “then the vice president of G.E. bought my large painting of the entire campus of buildings before they renovated it.”

Now that she is in Vero, she has embraced the plein air opportunities that our warmer climate provides and has been painting with a small group of women outside in the picturesque sunshine.

“It’s such a different way to paint,” she explains. “To paint in person, on site, you have to be so much more deliberate and focused, and the conditions are changing the whole time you’re outside.”

In Boston, she says her focus was on landmarks and architectural sites, so her paintings needed to be historically accurate.

“Down here, I’m trying slowly to discover things that I like from an earlier time. I’m really into history and restoration,” she says.

However, finding architectural scenes is more of a challenge, as she has to drive rather than walk to discover them. But it has also enabled her to find places that are off the beaten path, such as the 84-acre Osprey Acres Stormwater Park and Nature Preserve.

“It is totally rural with lots of wildlife, pretty remote and pristine,” says McFeaters, who finds art to be a form of medication.

“It’s almost mood altering. Psychologically you can put yourself in another place. If there is snow on the ground, you can paint sunshine and palm trees. If I don’t paint for a few weeks, I get cranky.”

McFeaters is impressed with Vero’s art scene, saying: “There’s a lot to do. There’s plenty going on and a lot of energy.”

Eventually, she says she would like to reignite the same type of commission business she had in Boston, which helped her to get through the pandemic, and hopes to also teach a class.

“We have such great programs down here. I want to do a program at the museum for sculpture. I love sculpture, but I just don’t have the studio space right now.”

McFeaters describes her painting style as modern impressionistic, “but a little edgier, not so static,” and she prefers using a slow-drying acrylic paint by Golden, called Open Acrylic.

“I started using them up north because I lived and worked in a large studio, and I didn’t want to be smelling oil and turpentine when I was making dinner,” she says, adding that interestingly, people sometimes think her works are actually oil paintings.

“In fact, two times recently I have had my work in an art show and have been awarded ‘Best Oil’ even though it says acrylic on the back.”

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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