The Peaceful World Foundation invited folk artist Karen Collins, Founder and Executive Director of the African American Miniature Museum, to present on her artistic and educational dioramas. Specifically, we wanted to highlight the healing power of Karen’s art and grass roots activism. Our Executive Director, Heidi Majano, asked our Art Program Facilitator, Julián Antonio Carrillo, to share his reflections on the conversation.

By Julián Antonio Carrillo

Glimpse into Karen Collin’s miniature dioramas and you step into history as well as a powerful multi-dimensional project. Her artwork has many sides and layers; it involves researching history and culture, creating and curating detailed shadowboxes, and sharing these creations in-person to children in public schools and other community spaces.

Diorama honoring William (Will/Bill) Pickett, a legendary cowboy from Texas of Black and Indigenous descent. Pickett was nicknamed “The Bull-Doggerbecause he would wrestle steer at rodeos and other popular entertainment shows in the early 20th century. Photo by Karen Collins.

Karen’s labor of love continuously is uplifting individuals and groups — documenting and honoring their stories, challenges, and feats — while also healing personal and collective wounds caused by structural factors like racial violence. Noteworthy, too, is that Karen has been doing this interdisciplinary work for the past 24 years almost entirely on her own and with her own, limited resources.

Karen Collins holding up one of her dioramas and engaging schoolchildren on one of her numerous school exhibits. As part of her practice, Karen invites some of children to serve as docents to teach their peers about one or several of the shadowboxes. Karen speaks of this practice as uplifting the chosen students as they feel proud to contribute to others. Photo courtesy of the artist.

It is no surprise, then, that when we invited Karen to talk about the African American Miniature Museum, the conversation flowed so well, enriched with questions, observations, and compliments, as each participant recognized Karen’s passion, dedication, and vision for creating a better, more just and equitable future, one small step at a time. 

It was an honor to welcome Karen into our virtual space and contribute to providing her the visibility, recognition, and support that her artwork and activism have long deserved.

Thank you, Karen, we welcome you back with open arms. And thank you, as well, to all of those who joined us and contributed to this conversation.

Karen with a group of students holding up one of her latest dioramas, showcasing the “Greensboro Four,” which was commissioned by Google for their 2020 Google Doodle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1960 “Greensboro Sit-in.” Photo courtesy of the artist.

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