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Fraser Valley artist is ‘Citizen of the Year’

by Stephanie Miller
Sky-Hi Daily News
Karen Vance, sitting inside Winter Park Framewerx, which displays several of her paintings.
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In the eyes of an artist, even the red, beetle-killed trees are beautiful to paint.

And that is why Karen Vance has been painting scenes of Grand County for so many years. She sees beyond the raw, untouched beauty of a gnarled tree or a snowy meadow, and brings out what truly matters: Her home. Her community. Her love for Grand County.

But Vance’s paintings have not only reflected living in the Fraser Valley; they’ve also contributed to it. Her paintings, which she often donates, have helped raise roughly $250,000 for local nonprofits in the past decade. Because of her dedication to the community, she was honored with this year’s Citizen of the Year Award by the Winter Park/Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“She’s a quiet leader in the community. She has been working diligently all these years to promote the Fraser Valley through her art,” said Catherine Ross, executive director for the chamber. “And she’s such a true inspiration to us.”

Vance moved to the Valley in 1981 to paint the mountains, and to ski them, she said. She had a variety of jobs, including a public relations position and a few years as town clerk for the town of Winter Park.

But it is hard to imagine Vance as anything but an artist. She wears black. Her thoughts are warm and often bubble over. She talks intelligently of her experiences and passions as she absentmindedly fumbles for a pen in her over-stuffed purse. Her garage, she admits with a disarming smile, has never seen cars; it’s filled with paintings, easels, sketches and brushes.

Her parents were artists, Vance explained, as where her grandparents and great-grandparents. Both of her sisters have careers in the arts. When deciding what she wanted to do for a living, Vance didn’t have much of a choice. Born in Illinois, one of her first memories is an outing with her parents to the Art Institute of Chicago, which she now knows “like the back of my hand.”

“I come from six generations of artists before me. It was like a doctor’s family. You were going to be an artist like your dad, grandfather . . .,” Vance said, smiling. “I was always surrounded by art.”

Vance’s education is rich in art. She has studied in a variety of schools and with some reputable artists such as Quang Ho. She has painted in Italy, France ” “where the light is truly pink” ” England, Canada, and all over the U.S.

But nothing compares to painting in Grand County.

“This is a very, very special place,” she said.

Vance was “very honored” to receive the Citizen of the Year Award ” the top honor she has ever received, she said. She attributes much of her recognition as a giver to the community to her husband and “right-hand-man” Jim Cordell, who she’s been married to for 13 years and who has “been such an integral part of all of this,” she said.

Her eyes shine when she talks of the award.

“I love this community. I believe in it. And it has always been a struggling community. Everyone who lives here knows that, and that’s why it’s a valley of givers.”

Grand County is what Vance calls a “real community.” People throw up their sleeves, she said; they don’t just live here. They invest their time, energy and love.

And where others may be quick to criticize, Vance sheds a positive light. The Fraser Valley may be viewed as “slow to develop” to some, but Vance believes it is what has kept it “quite pristine.”

The trees may be red and dying, but Vance sees more wildflowers than she ever has before, and the Aspen “are really coming through” and flourishing.

Vance’s paintings have helped raise funds for the Advocates, the National Sports Center for the Disabled, Grand County Habitat for Humanity, the Grand Foundation and the Winter Park Horseman’s Association, to name a few. She estimates she has donated roughly 20,000 paintings and giclees.

Of course, painting pays the bills, she added. “It’s what I do for a living.”

But she enjoys giving to a community that seems to give her inspiration in return.

“That is why I give,” she said. “It’s a very worthy community.”


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