Karena “Kidd” Graves (’19 BFA Studio Art: Ceramics and Sculpture) is carving out her place in the sculpture world—something she began in sixth grade and honed here at UNC Greensboro’s School of Art:

“Working toward a sculpture degree, I did ceramics classes, metal classes, and woodshop. But the thing about Art at UNCG is that you do what they call Foundations, so I was in every class and was able to do an independent study with each of my professors. I also got to travel. I received scholarships to go places like Italy. Having all of that be a part of my BFA was awesome.”

Still, most of Graves’s time was spent in the foundry—an area of the art world that historically has drawn more people identifying as male than as female, possibly because of the sheer weight and size of sculpture materials. Finding personal protective equipment that is the right size can also be a challenge:

“I found that to be an issue quite a bit. Women’s hands are generally smaller. If the gloves don’t fit, you aren’t comfortable and that makes it difficult to be creative and you can’t work. Even though PPE was provided, I sometimes had to go and find my own gloves and jackets. But the stores that stock these are intended for men, too, so you still have to search for things that fit your petite hands or body.”

Foundry Director Kevin Vanek came to UNC Greensboro just after Graves had graduated. He immediately recognized the need for more varied sizes in equipment and spoke about the improvements that he is making:

“I’ve made it a personal goal to address issues of accessibility in the shop. Metal working tends to be male dominated. Some of the tools are not usable by all students. I am working to replace and to rebuild outdated equipment in the foundry to better fit the current/future student population. Recently, I ordered all news sets of safety gear for the foundry in all sizes so that all students can safely suit up and fully participate.”

Graves says another important aspect in encouraging more female sculptors is for faculty to lead by example. She says she was inspired by School of Art Professor Pat Wasserboehr who exhibits her work regionally, nationally, and internationally and whose biography is published in Contemporary American Women Sculptors by Virginia Watson Jones. According to Graves:

“I think it really is on schools to keep opening these doors. Foundations classes give you a taste of everything, so that helps art students get a taste of everything and maybe discover sculpture. Also, it’s on the professors and what they teach. Show me the contemporary artists. Show me the women who were doing the art during history, not just the men. It’s important to be able to say ‘hey that person looks like me, and I can probably do that, too.’”

Graves is currently pursuing an MFA in Sculpture at East Carolina University and shows her work on campus and in local shops and galleries. She also has murals up in Pitt County where ECU is located. 

She continues to work with assemblage and likes to find a balance between hard and soft materials, recently experimenting with textiles, weaving, and iron pours. Her current practice explores the idea of fish dreams, which are said to represent a person’s spiritual alignment with the material world:

“In my own family we have these sort of shared dreams among the women. Maybe you have a dream about a pregnancy, that someone you know is pregnant. This could turn out to be a physical pregnancy, but it could just also mean a new idea or transition in someone’s life. In my art, I’ve been dealing with fish and water and the subconscious, trying to relate that to my spiritual energy.…I’ve always had this dream that I have my own land, and artists would be always coming in and out, sort of like a residency. And some would be working on individual projects and others would be collaborating on pieces, and we would all just be sharing this space. There would be sculptures everywhere outside and showcases inside. That’s my dream.” 

To view Karena “Kidd” Graves work visit her Instagram @kiddkreates 

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photos provided by Karena “Kidd” Graves