Karen Pence is a painter

Karen Pence paintings
Karen Pence, prints of watercolor paintings, 2016.

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. 

Karen Pence painting
Karen Pence with her paintings at the Indiana State Fair.

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.

Karen Pence paintings
August 05, 2016 (Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis, Indiana) – Governor Mike Pence and First Lady Karen Pence with Jean Smith, first place winner of the Indiana State Fair Watercolors Division. (image via www.In.gov)

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.”

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61 thoughts on “Karen Pence is a painter”

    1. Why post such a comment, is your intention to be just hateful and hurtful?
      You must be a miserable being and are to be pitied.

        1. Yeah, as an art student that struggles with imposter syndrome, I really struggle with worrying about if I have enough time to develop my technical skill alongside my style fast enough to make it professionally. When I see her boring style, it really makes me bitter. Makes me feel like commercial art will have me struggling while fine arts is just about who you know. Her stuff is at my level as a first year student and I will probably never taste the success she has managed to piggyback off her husband

    2. And now the 2nd Lady Elect will be painting the Whitehouse! Watercolor is a very difficult medium and bravo to anyone who does it.
      I wonder what your paintings look like Mr Brand

      1. Clearly you need to take an art appreciation course or two. Maybe some art history would help. Watercolour isn’t that difficult, but drawing – now that’s a different story.

        1. Totally agree. Even as a beginner, I noticed that a better drawing is the foundation for a better painting; no great painting skill can rescue a terrible drawing.

    3. Be strong Karen , it would seem art, may or may not be for you …I think Art, being creative, is has very lttle to with ambition or money, its a thing from the heart, ..We must leave the heady life things for the big girls and boys, The real creators are always being called upon, I do hope , and kinda guessing you know where I am coming from….Happiness Gary

      1. There is nothing “rude” about critiquing art. Any art student knows that art critiques are part of the education. You stand there and take the criticism from fellow students; and then you improve, hopefully.

    4. I am a watercolorist and its challenging because you can’t just paint over mistakes. Btw, you people who have to share your nasty thoughts … bet most of you don’t even paint!

      1. Yes, we do paint and draw. Saying you’re a “watercolourist” is meaningless. Show the stuff, beginning with drawings from observation; ie still life, studio life, landscapes, in charcoal, pencil, oil sticks, …

  1. Brain surgery is very difficult. Watercolor technique is not that difficult a medium and I speak as someone who paints in it (and oil) and has taught it to well over 1000 students over nearly 30 years. What is difficult is originality. Ms Pence is competent at a basic technical level but her work is safe, pedestrian and impersonal. Originality requires a willingness to take risks and/ or to invest a deeper personal investigation into the process. (One problem with this work is that a photo with a simple watercolor filter applied digitally would look pretty close to this work.) I am happy she is finding satisfaction in her hobby but the only novelty here is that she will be doing it while married to the VP. If she uses her new position to promote the Fine Arts, I will respect her interest more. And since you linked Mr. Brand’s possible work to his authority to speak to this article, I attach a website of my work.

    1. Re: her support of the arts. I don’t think you have much to worry about. From cosmopolitan-dot-com:
      “She formed the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation in 2013 to promote individuals and organizations that encourage children, families, and the arts, the IndyStar reports. The foundation offers grants and scholarships to these individuals and organizations, and the foundation first benefited Riley’s Art Therapy Initiative, an art therapy program for hospitalized children.”

    2. This is what’s so wonderful about Art…beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While the above commenter’s personal website showed some interesting art, and I personally love color…I found the subject matter & color to be reminiscent of carnival hawkers, circuses, and the like. The busy-ness of most of the paintings made the eye wander to the point where I had to look away to have a pause…similar to clearing the palate of overly rich food, without being able to take it in at one time. The overuse of primary colors were also rather, elementary. Very interesting work…but over done and visually hectic, especially with the borders. With today’s technology, artwork can be digitally copied with precision, so no surprise there. With technology today, we can hardly believe our own eyes anymore. While some people like muted hues, others like bright, and some like traditional and others prefer like the above…a reminder of the work of Charles Wysocki. Thankfully, we can all choose exactly what we like!

    3. What a thoughtful response;immediately inspiring to all who try the awful, intimidating act of being truthful to one’s self and not illustrating a digital image or someone’s response to deeper thoughts or scenes………….Thank you! Barbara Kerstetter

    4. Thank you. I feel the same. As a first year student I struggle with innovation and using the negative space as well as stylization. Making stylized choices, etc. my technical skill is not far off from her and I worry every day if I will make it professionally at the end of my 4 years, will even minor or switch my major to graphic design so I can be safer. Even wanted an independent study with my mentor focusing entirely on style development but couldn’t afford the class this semester. When I see her work, it makes me extremely bitter. I don’t even think it’s painted from life but through a grid maybe? I struggle on how to break out of my bad habits and push forward and here her success is piggybacked off the position of her husband. Really makes me disillusioned with the fine arts. Commercial art is what I want, but I just don’t understand how she made it. No idea. Good example is her book. Looks entirely photo referenced.

  2. Artists should be very concerned about the authoritarian, anti-democratic Trump/Pence regime that is about to take over the US government. Remember how the Nazis called modern art “degenerate” and banned it on the grounds that it was un-German? Artists were sanctioned and their work was censored. The frighteningly corrupt Trump/Pence govt. seems poised for similar measures. Dissent will not be tolerated– they have already blocked the Million Woman March that was scheduled to take place in DC the day after the inauguration.

    1. Anonymous has got it right. The former Bush president is painting too but these paintings by Mrs. Pence represent a fledging attempt at mastering (watercolor, oil painting, acrylic painting) with attempts at photographic representation. I takes awhile. I know a lot of former students etc. who paint, have shows and the like: kudos for them and their work does speak for itself and Mrs. Pence’s work does.

  3. When you consider that Trump, Putin, and Pence lost the popular vote, it seems likely that protests will continue throughout their (let’s call it what it is) reign. Will arts organizations that present artists and exhibitions critical of TPP policies be defunded? We may all end up drooling in a corner, painting meaningless house portraits, and having pathetic shows in the glass cases at the state agricultural fairs.

  4. I adore Mrs. Pence’s art work and we all should encourage anyone with the courage to paint. “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” If you do not like her artwork-then do not look at it-I for one LOVE IT!!!

  5. Does something as lovely as watercolor painting by Karen Penske have to be denegrated by some people? She is educated, taught children and took up a unique interest; painting; so what if she depicts houses??? I hand fabricate jewelry, design , fabricate, make bezels and set stones, I recently stated botanical paintings??? Would you cruel art judges consider my endeavors worthy of creative art? Her husband is the “tag along VP” with President Trump. Why not value Karen’s contribution to children as a teacher… I am a teacher, elementary, too… a value contribution to society!

    1. Lovely? Please. Have you ever taken an actual art course? You don’t get protection in the art world, you get exposure to an audience. Part of a painting is the viewer’s take on it. If you can’t handle that, then get out of the kitchen. How can anyone value someone “teaching” art to children when they hold such repressive, inhibited religious views? There’s no art that will come out of that stunted thinking.

    1. I would love to know how Trump and Pence are “dismantling our democracy?” I really want to know your opinion – Please feel free to rant.

      1. Sure, I’ll comment, Shawn. No, I don’t need to “…rant.” You don’t need to hurl epithets, just be proper and ask a question. Let’s see. Pence and Trump tried to deny 26,000,000 American families their healthcare insurance. Yup. Take it away. Do you watch the news, Shawn? And as for passing ANY legislation concerning a (1) jobs bill, (2) budget bill, (3) infrastructure bill, (3) debt ceiling, (4) tax reform, (5) immigration reform, (6) education/school funding, etc… there is nothing. Zero. Trump has taken more vacation by any President at this time, and spent more in one month, than President Obama did in a year. This after insulting our allies, attacking his own party, firing so much of his own staff… and threatening judges, his own AG, and multiple Generals. Under 5 criminal investigations, including “obstruction of justice, colluding with an enemy state, serial lying, involved in a cover-up of treasonous activities, and trying to usurp an ongoing Special Prosecutor who is trying to find out how many of Trump’s family, Cabinet, campaign officials were involved in espionage with Russia. That doesn’t even go into the President ending “video” of the WH Press Conferences, refusing to explain his hundreds of lies (See: Washington Post’s interactive page: “100 Days of Trump Claims,”) and his war on the Press –– who is only trying to figure out what he’s up to, as he hasn’t given a Press Conference (where he answers questions) in months. A White House hiding from the public, and humiliated daily… with so many lies by the President. It is the worst I’ve ever seen. And I’m almost 60. This “dismantling of democracy” with Trump gutting decades-old protocols and procedures that have kept this nation strong… is worth noting. But folks such as you, who are “cult-like” followers of this man, who has accomplished zero in his 7 months in office, is the scary thing. You don’t mind Trump’s lies. You don’t mind his gargantuan lack of knowledge of remedial policy. You laugh when he makes a gaffe that underscores he knows nothing, (See recent transcripts of phone calls with the Mexican President Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull). My god, this is not a joke. America is dying here.

        1. Sensible Thinker, well said. I do enough FB ranting about Donnie and Mikey for both of us (and probably several others).
          If you thought things were bad in August, well, just look what’s happened since then.

  6. From Eliot A. Cohen, former Bush admin, writing in The Atlantic:

    “I am not surprised by President Donald Trump’s antics this week. Not by the big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington. Not by the quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them. Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character.

    “We were right. And friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could “this is abnormal,” to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.

    “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better….”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/a-clarifying-moment-in-american-history/514868/

  7. I find it awful when one artist bashes another artists work…Isn’t art supposed to be about expressing oneself in what ever form feels good to that artist? Her artwork does not have any thing to do about politics. I voted for Hillary but I don’t like to see mean spirited comments about any persons artwork. Whether a creative person is a Republican, Democrat, Independent or no party designated…We artists need to support one another, not bring each other down.

    1. We support one another by critiquing. The people who like Ms. Pence’s work are free to like it. Those of us who find it a little bit
      deathly are just as viable as the people who find it enlivening. This is a discussion. Let’s keep talking to each other. A little courtesy can go a long way.

    2. Dude, she sucks. I mean sucks. This isn’t even art. A Motel Six wouldn’t even want this in their public restroom.

  8. Some of you are so mean spirited, or “elitist artistes”, or bringing politics into a venue where it does not belong. Mrs. Pence is a pretty special person, a pretty special watercolorist, and I would congratulate her work–especially her latest work which she contributed to her current home, the VP mansion at the Naval Observatory. Thanks!
    PS) I voted in primary for Bernie, and for Hillary, so not a GOP fan in particular — but we’re ALL Americans with talents…let’s let our talents and tolerances prevail!

  9. There seem to be an awful lot of art snobs here. What they don’t seem to understand is that art is a very personal thing. If it pleases the artist, that’s basically the essence of art and all that is needed. If it also pleases others, that’s even better, though not essential.

    I can stand Trump, Pence, and the whole disgusting Republican party, so that’s not the basis of my rant here. I just think that if Ms. Pence likes her own art, and other people like her art, then that’s all that matters, and those who don’t like it can go suck lemons.

  10. Well I’m no republican, and I think Pence might actually be worse than Trump — well probably not — but anyway I think her watercolors are very nice, certainly better than I could do, and good for her for having a hobby she enjoys and becoming accomplished at it. Kudos Mrs. Pence!

  11. Gee, you guys act like it’s a crime that Karen married Pence…then again, Pence IS a fan of judging who should marry who…so according to Pence, feel free to judge! Or if you like, support REP to DEM conversion therapy…after all, so many feel that what they are doing is evil and wrong.

  12. Karen’s painting are flawless with extreme talent. Anyone can see this..take the name Pence out the painting and you would say..”beautiful and so talented..wish I could paint like that.” …. So the ugly comments are coming from what point of view. .. Hate for Trump and Pence …. So in general don’t give credit to a lady that can paint.

    1. Oh my goodness you’re living in a world of hurt. Extreme talent?? She’s copying from photographs, at best. That’s not art.

  13. All I can say is, I have about 200% more respect for George Bush’s paintings than this anodyne crap. One looks like a careful copy of Bob Newhart’s inn on the TV show; another looks most definitely like it was copied from a Christmas card from about the 60s or so. The third one is another copy from either a photograph, or someone else’s painting.

    That’s not art. That is at the very least, a diagram.

  14. Keep on painting and ignore the naysayers! I may never be the greatest artist but there is restorative therapy in creating something from a blank canvas, so to thine own self be true!

    1. Clearly, Karen Pence is ONLY true to herself.
      She lives in a self constructed evangelical christian bubble. “She who must be obeyed”
      is a weekend watercolorist at best. I find her control over the Vice President much more offensive than her lack of control over a paintbrush. Benign paintings, Dangerous politics.

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