Release Date: 
Saturday, September 23, 2023

Get to Know HFC: Alumna Karen Larson-Voltz brings international arts experience to her teaching

Portrait of Karen Larson-Voltz.

HFC fine arts instructor Karen Larson-Voltz’s family has lived in the Dearborn area since the 1870s.

“My older sister and I are the sixth generation here,” said Larson-Voltz, who lives in Dearborn with her husband and two children.

The second of three children, Larson-Voltz is an alumnus of Edsel Ford High School. She was dual-enrolled at HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) during her senior year as an art student.

“I have always gravitated toward the arts, even as a child,” she said. “By the time I graduated from high school, I had completed 12 credit hours at the College, which nurtured my passion for visual arts and higher education.”

Inspired to pay it forward

Larson-Voltz earned her associate degree from HFC in graphic design. Transferring to Wayne State University, she earned her bachelor’s degree in studio arts photography. She later earned her MFA in studio art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is affiliated with The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s oldest and largest art museums.

Her early experiences at HFC were formative. “My first drawing class at HFC taught me to slow down while giving me the space to learn how to really look and observe,” she said. “Taking time to critically look at something, sometimes for hours, teaches a discipline necessary for 'durational inquisitiveness' that is crucial for a sustainable studio practice that fosters an internal dialogue as a response to the world.”

Larson-Voltz continued: “The art and art history instructors I worked with at the College inspired me so much that I knew before finishing my associate degree at HFC that I wanted to obtain an MFA in studio arts. It took me a while to get there, but it happened.”

For 14 years, Larson-Voltz has taught photography and fine arts at HFC. She also teaches at the College for Creative Studies.

“After completing my graduate studies and returning to the area, I wanted to return the inspiration that I experienced back to HFC and its students,” she said. “I knew how much my experience here made a difference to me, and I hope to impact students' lives in the same way.”

Her artwork is part of global conversations

Aside from teaching, Larson-Voltz has an active visual research and studio art practice and exhibits her artwork at local, national, and international venues.

“On a personal level, deadlines motivate me to continue pushing my research. This can be very helpful in keeping a forward momentum going within my work. This has led me to exhibit in countries where my work can participate in a global conversation. Some of these group shows are in China, Canada, Iceland, Germany, Greece, Slovenia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.”

Larson-Voltz's latest work will be showcased in the 94th Michigan Contemporary Art Exhibition at the Muskegon Museum of Art, starting September 28.

Some of her recent work is drawing, painting, and manually retouching negatives.

“This research dovetailed nicely with a darkroom class that is running for the first time in almost 10 years at the College,” explained Larson-Voltz. “Over the first few weeks of this semester, I was able to share my art historical findings and studio techniques with the students so they could make their own work by combining the handmade and chemically reproduced.”

“Lucky to learn how to hang and light my artwork” at HFC

One the first galleries in which Larson-Voltz showcased her artistry was at HFC’s own Sisson Art Gallery in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center (Building F) on the main campus.

“On a practical level, I was lucky to learn how to hang and light my artwork on my own in Sisson,” said Larson-Voltz. “Many of my graduate school peers who only attended name-recognized research institutions, Ivy League schools, and even private art schools did not get this invaluable hands-on experience. Having the opportunity to hang and light my work two different times in Sisson instilled in me a self-confidence for which I am grateful.”

She continued: “Another priceless experience I received as a student was from (retired HFC photography instructor) Chris Ridgeway. In an independent study class, she insisted that I begin to submit artwork for professional regional juried exhibitions. This taught me how to prepare my work in an archival fashion that met professional standards while taking the mystery out of the process of how to exhibit work in professional galleries and collections.”

Creating one-of-a-kind books

Larson-Voltz has created or co-created artist books, an art form intended as an expression of art that does not function in the traditional sense of what a publisher and bookseller carries. It is a medium that allows her to combine text, images, and work with the book's form and structure to create an intertextuality between forms (written, 2-dimensional, and 3-dimensional). They have been curated at:

“These are artist books that are often one-of-a-kind or small editions and are created as artistic expressions,” she explained. “They are not writings on art but are art forms in themselves.”

Teaching is an excellent venue to inspire students

HFC fine arts instructor Vicki Shepherd has worked with Larson-Voltz for 10 years. She said working with her is a pleasure.

“Karen is so supportive of the programs within digital and graphic arts, as well as photography and studio arts,” said Shepherd. “She is an artist-designer exploring new techniques and applying them in her practice. This stems from her love of research. Karen has worked with students well beyond the classroom hours, sharing her expertise, which helps students grow, often resulting in their participation in showing their work as professional photographers or obtaining freelance opportunities. Karen is a valued member of the Fine and Performing Arts team. She has been such a help with getting digital photography and the darkroom up and running. I am grateful to have her on the HFC faculty."

Larson-Voltz is teaching the following classes this fall:

“Even though the content for a course is relatively consistent from one semester to the next, there is always an element of surprise with what the students will bring to discussions and projects,” she said. “I view a big part of my job as helping nurture students to be inquisitive so they can apply what they have learned in a meaningful way. I love sharing what I have learned with others and conversing with all the diverse views and thoughts students bring to class. Teaching is an excellent venue where this type of interaction can happen.”

Faculty Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Steve Glazer worked with Larson-Voltz once Darkroom Photography was reintroduced. Glazer felt she would be the person most qualified to teach the class.

“Karen has been my right-hand person with everything related to the darkroom in the Fine Arts Center,” said Glazer. “She’s spent countless hours prepping the darkroom, finding the best chemicals – especially because things have changed a lot in the last 10 years – and doing almost everything to make the class successful. She is an invaluable and dedicated asset to the College.”