SPC Activist Profile: Karen Kerney

From the November-December 2011 PNL #809

Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre

Karen sells yarn at Plowshares 2006.
Photo: SPC archives

Karen Kerney has come to call Jamesville, NY home “by migration and by choice.” There are many intersecting threads in her story: from a major in chemistry to her work at On The Rise Bakery; from craftmaking as a youth to a thesis in puppetry at SU; from an interest in public service announcements to her current position as Art Director at the Syracuse Cultural Workers—each part of Karen’s life shaped some piece of the artist and activist that she is today.


How did you come to be here-ish?

I grew up in Rochester and went off to college as a chemistry major in Ohio—Denison University in 1968. I was fascinated with—not commercial art but advertising art—the selling of ideas. There were some profound public service announcements about the environment or about war in the 60s. I remember being very moved by those. The war forced most of the schools in Ohio to close down except for Denison University, so all of these schools had their antiwar meetings at Denison. I kind of got swept up in all that was happening. I didn’t make a lot of connections but made enough connections. I ended up getting a job at General Electric but the job wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be so I went back for my Master’s at Syracuse University.

How did you find SPC?

One of my roommates was Bill McDowell. Through him I got to know about the Peace Council and at some point turned up on the doorstep there with all my puppets. I liked working with groups of people, brainstorming an idea. People would be sitting around in a circle brainstorming ideas maybe for the calendar cover or some PNL cover, and I could just sit there and thumbnail up ideas. That’s really how you would work with a client. I don’t know where we all got cut off from drawing as a way to communicate but it really is a language.


Do you call yourself an activist?

I worked the co-op and whole grains and regional food systems. So kind of activist work but common sense. Activist, yes, but also it felt like it was part of a movement for change. It was like getting in a river and just being in that river of change and not necessarily labeled, just life looking for life changing.