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Arts Mid-Hudson Blog

AMH Blog by Karen Gersch, About her Life in Various Art Forms

I grew up as a renegade tomboy in what was then the wilds of Rockland County (all fruit orchards and forests, no developments or malls). When I wasn’t climbing trees, I was drawing and painting – mostly nature from life or circus from my imagined life. As a teenager, I began performing physically and comically. At 16, I was given a scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where I majored in fine arts and minored in theatre. Upon graduating, I ran away with my first circus.

Two Russians (stars of Moscow Circus) who defected to NY became my Master Teachers and from them I learned the core of acrobatics, balancing and partner work. I toured with three-ring circuses here and in Canada, with one-ring tented shows abroad, and was a founding member of both The Big Apple Circus and Vermont’s Circus Smirkus. Art supplies and sketchbooks were constant companions. I drew life on the road, backlot, during shows, portraits of the tent late at night beneath full moons and more.

After decades of traveling, I founded my physical theatre company: Acrobrats, Inc. in New York City, and continued painting and exhibiting in universities, galleries and museums. Cecelia Barnett, then director of the New Canaan Carriage Barn (a 185-foot-long stone carriage house gallery with 40-foot ceilings) accepted my proposal for an expansive exhibition entitled “From Gravity to Grace: Art of the Circus”. She insisted that we share curatorial credit, but I credit her with having taught me a great deal about how to conjure a powerfully cohesive show out of 100 paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs.

Wielding a brush or palette knife remains my first joy, but I find myself newly invigorated by the prospect of curating many diverse works—like a ringmaster overseeing the action and artistry that unfolds in a center ring.

The Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center in Poughkeepsie featured both my war work and circus portraits in a dual exhibition last year. In November 2017, I curated a large exhibition at the Orange Hall Gallery of State University of New York Orange in Middletown called “War in the Arts: Redeeming Spirits”, involving 35 visual artists and 40 poets. Dorothy Szefc, head of cultural affairs, was an invaluable mentor there.

This year, I’ve curated “The Art of Balance”, a two-month, multi-media exhibition for the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, June 2 through July 29. Correlating events included community workshops, a one-ring circus, Artists Talk, documentary film, and European-style clown duet. Work by the ten professional artists chosen will be on display until July 29.

I am already working on the curation of a major circus exhibition for May through August, 2019 at the prestigious Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

CIRCUS! @ The Howland presents: “The Art of Balance”, a multi-media exhibition celebrating circus, conceived and curated by Karen E. Gersch. The Exhibit and correlating events run from June 2 to July 29 at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main St., Beacon, NY. For more information or details, contact: 845-831-4988 or [email protected]

For more of Karen Gersch’s artistry or history, visit: or on Facebook: Art by Karen E. Gersch. Her performance work can be found on:


About the column:

Arts Mid-Hudson has served up fresh arts and culture across the region for over 53 years. This biweekly series of columns showcases arts, artists’ work and arts events across the region presented with the support of Arts Mid-Hudson. For information about its services, events and grant opportunities visit, call 845-454-3222 or email [email protected].