Contributed by Sharon Butler / Yes, Indiana’s First Lady Karen Pence likes to paint. Pence told the Indy Star that she studied art at Butler, where she majored in teaching and minored in art. “I thought, gosh, ‘I’d like to learn more about art.’ I pulled it out of the air.” She graduated with BA and MA degrees in elementary education, taught art in Indiana grammar schools for many years, and sold her paintings at local art fairs.
According to the Indy Star:
When they had their first child, Karen decided to take a class in watercolors. “I told Mike I need a night when you’re in charge and I just go have fun,” she said. “Then what happened was, I realized, I can paint.” Her mother-in-law asked her to paint the lake house. A sister commissioned her to do her house. The idea for a business was planted. Watercolors, which dry quickly, suited the mother of three young children. “You can paint while they’re napping,” she said.
This past April, she presented a series of watercolor prints at the Indiana Arts Building on the Indiana State Fairgrounds as part of Indiana’s bicentennial celebration.
In 2008, Pence became the honorary chair of the Art Therapy Committee at the Riley Hospital for Children, and later served as a member of Riley Hospital’s Foundation Board. Ms. Pence also has a charitable foundation, Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation, that focuses on children, families and the arts. In 2014, at the inaugural First Lady’s Luncheon, the Foundation awarded $100,000 to the Art Therapy Program at Riley Hospital for Children. This year they donated $52,500 to 57 Indiana organizations and charities.
Pence is married to Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s ultra-conservative running mate. Judging from the type of paintings Pence herself makes and her Foundation’s choice of grant recipients, I think it’s safe to say that their ideas about art are deeply traditional.
UPDATE: Trump and Pence were elected in 2016 and have since caused unprecedented disruption to American governance and ongoing political scandal. After the inauguration, the Pences took up residence at the Vice President’s house, located on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. She illustrated a children’s book that her daughter wrote, and, in 2019, took a part-time teaching position at the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia. The school, where Pence taught full-time for twelve years when her husband was in Congress, openly bans gay students, employees, and parents. Former student Ian Cronkhite, who is gay, wrote in the HuffPo that the school was “a hotbed of right-wing fanaticism, shoved down the throats of impressionable children at every turn. The community of teachers, students and families was fiercely like-minded and almost exclusively Republican…. Obviously, homosexuality was evil…. Needless to say, it was made very clear to me, and to all of us, that there was nothing worse than being gay. [Homosexuals] were disgusting perverts who hated Christians and had a nefarious agenda to dismantle society.”
According to Politico, Pence’s spokesperson said that it is “absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school’s religious beliefs, are under attack.”