Karen Woodin will tell you that her Russell Sage experience provided her with the back bone and groundwork that equipped her for the competitive job market. The outcome of that experience was a successful 21-year career in early childhood education. But some of the qualities that were forged during her Sage education, the drive to maximize her potential and step out of her comfort zone, also played a part in the fulfilling 2nd career she is currently enjoying as a landscape artist and teacher.
Karen grew up in a family of artists, teachers, and artisans in Altamont, NY. Both her mother and sister are art teachers and her grandfather was a commercial photographer. Her dad was a self-taught craftsman, locksmith and electronics technician for AT&T. From the influence of her home life, she always knew that she wanted to teach or engage in creative artistic pursuits in some professional capacity. Russell Sage was a great fit for Karen because of the emphasis on both personal and professional growth.
At Sage, Karen found a sense of belonging and personalized attention throughout her four years. Whether you were seeking financial support for a student loan or finding the ideal student teaching assignment, staff and faculty were always there for her to answer questions, provide support, and to make her feel known and valued.
Karen remembered two teachers in particular who helped and challenged her in moments when she doubted her ability to succeed. Richard Jones, Chair of the Theatre department, had noticed inconsistency in her work in one of his classes. Knowing what she was capable of, he brought it to her attention and challenged her to maximize her potential, pushing her to be better. His timely remarks encouraged her to believe in what she could achieve if she set her best effort and mind to it. Dr. James Flosdorf, an English professor, always helped her to step outside her comfort zone and to be more introspective. His classes fine-tuned her ability to become a better critical thinker and writer. She credits both professors for influencing her education in very precise and important ways.
Karen loved the camaraderie of being around strong women at Russell Sage and the sense of connection and belonging she enjoyed living on campus. She lived in Ackerman, Vanderheyden, and McKinstry and is still in touch with her roommate. She found that the traditions and student life activities were a wonderful way to engage students and help them integrate into the energy, enthusiasm and traditions of campus life. She also reminisced about ushering at Troy Music Hall as part of a music electives class that required her to write critiques on the symphonic performances. What made this extra special was that her future husband ushered along with her and since that experience has been an advocate for her fine art endeavors.
Her advice to current Russell Sage students: Ask questions and seek out support from the career center. Make sure to participate in programs and internships that give first-hand knowledge and experience. These experiences will add weight and relevance to your education and also help you to evaluate your own skills in light of the career choice you are pursuing.
What is giving her life great joy and fulfillment these days is her second career. For the past several years, Karen has been teaching fine arts courses through Hudson Valley Community College’s creative retirement off-site program. She teaches landscape oil painting for adults at the Historic St. Agnes “Living Room Gallery” in Menands. She also does demonstrations and workshops throughout the Capital Region for local art associations and community programs.
As an artist herself, she has been participating in juried and non-juried art shows sponsored by local art associations for the past 10 years. One of her greatest accomplishments as an artist is being selected as a regional featured artist for the Choose Cohoes for Art at the Cohoes Music Hall and the Butzel Gallery in Schenectady. This past summer and fall her work was exhibited in several group shows in Saratoga.
Her favorite painting, “Sanctuary,” is an oil painting of a waterfall scene that uses minimal brush strokes and features dramatic lighting. Living by the Mohawk River and spending summers at the ocean have given Karen a love of waterscapes and she finds working in oil provides the best depth and perspective for creating water in a painting.
Karen feels that her second career as a landscape artist and teacher gives her a chance to bring a bit of wonder, beauty, and appreciation of nature’s picturesque landscapes and engaging others in the process.
As a Russell Sage alumna, Karen enjoys coming back to campus and is excited to find what is different. She loves many of the opportunities that students now have with the new student center, a great bookstore, and library. She enjoys coming back for Reunion and keeping in touch with her classmates.
In speaking with her about the changes on the horizon for Russell Sage, she expressed excitement about the direction. Grateful for the Open Forum sessions to listen and give feedback, she believes that the true integrity of Russell Sage will remain. Her artist sense that knows the value of seeing things from different perspectives, and understands that change is often essential to growth. She is excited that Russell Sage is embarking in a direction that is sensitive to a broader population.
Hearing Karen’s story, makes us mindful of appreciating the beauty around us and taking stock of maximizing our own potential. Thank you Karen for sharing your story, your art, and your thoughts with us. Thank you for the many ways your influence enhances our community.