Organizations* : NAWA
Born and raised in Morton, along the banks of the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota, Ken Carlson developed an early affinity for the wildlife that he so skillfully paints as a mature artist. Dedicated to saving wildlife in their habitats, he was named the “Living Legend for Wildlife Art” in 1998 by the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. His work with that organization began in the 1980s when he created posters for their fund raising, which is used for research centers and game departments.
Carlson took his early art training with Walter Wilderding, head of the Art Instruction School in Minneapolis, and after high school graduation, moved to Minneapolis where he attended the Minneapolis School of Art and also did illustration work for a local TV station and a newspaper. He spent evenings at the zoo studying the animals, and the director gave him a key so he could roam at will. In 1972, Carlson illustrated a coffee-table book on North American birds and two years later had his first one-man show of bird paintings in New York. But he found he found more enjoyment painting larger animals such as moose, bears, bull elk, caribou, and bison, despite having been attacked by both a bull elk and a bull moose.
Of his work, Carlson says, “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of being an artist. That’s all I ever wanted to be. Birds and animals were all I ever wanted to paint.” Carlson is noted for his classic animal-in-its-habitat pieces, which utilize a purity of light, an emphasis on form and character, mood and a strong sense of place. There is a narrative element to Carlson’s work as well; his paintings tell an emotional story.
Carlson’s work is included in the collections of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming; the Genesee County Museum, Rochester, New York; and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.
He and his wife, Mary Lea, lived for a period in California, moved on to Montana, and finally settled in Kerrville, Texas, whose charms Carlson discovered on a turkey hunt. He spends his days studying and painting big game animals, and also does woodworking.