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Henderson artist to be featured at gallery during First Friday

Muscular d ystrophy has not stopped Henderson artist Karen Wheeler from painting, even in the face of adversity.

"It is because people with disabilities are super human," Wheeler said. "It is hard enough dealing with a disability. But dealing with outsiders who give us problems just makes us stronger. I need to buy a S uperman shirt."

Her super ability is conjured from her hand, which grasps the brush as tightly as possible as though it was a wand.

Each stroke is careful and deliberate as Wheeler dedicates herself to each painting for as long as it takes.

And when her power has finished, the watercolors she uses are transformed into murals like magic.

Wheeler has spent five months to two years working on an art piece.

"I don’t really do short ones," Wheeler said.

The longest piece, "The Fate of Little Red Ri ding Hood," took Wheeler two years to finish and is a three-part painting that shows Red Rid ing Hood being stalked by the Big Bad Wolf , who eventually devours her.

Jenny Valdez, a fellow artist who owns Jenny Valdez Inc. Gallery in downtown Las Vegas, said Wheeler’s talents and dedication have brought her respect from the art community.

"(Wheeler) is one of the top five people you need to know when you become a part of the local arts scene," Valdez said.

From time to time, Wheeler said, there are people who don’t believe she painted the works featured in her exhibits.

"I had a lady ask me if I used a paint-by-numbers," Wheeler said. "I said, ‘Why? Did I miss a blue line?’ I like to give people a hard time and make fun of their ignorance. They just don’t know any better."

While some people gawk in disbelief, others gaze in inspiration.

"Her technique, plus the time she spends on each piece, is truly remarkable," Valdez said. "It is amazing what you can accomplish when you put all your being into a piece. That is why her work is so incredibly special."

People’s doubts first manifested in college when an art instructor told Wheeler not to take the class because she wouldn’t be able to do the work.

Despite that instructor, Wheeler took that same class from another professor.

"I never had any problems," Wheeler said. "I was told my work was no different than the other students."

When she graduated from California State University, Fullerton, with a master’s degree in art in 1981, she invited that professor to her graduation.

"She never came," Wheeler said.

Another professor told Wheeler she couldn’t get her master’s .

"I did it in spite of him," Wheeler said. "I did it just because he told me I couldn’t."

Wheeler has worked as an artist, trying to get her name out and promote her works ever since .

She said she has had the most success since she moved to Henderson in 1991.

Wheeler joined the Vegas Artists Guild, where she met fellow artist Valdez.

"I was intimidated," Valdez said. "People kept talking about how amazing her work was. They were right. I felt super inferior then. Well, I still do now."

Wheeler sought out Valdez five months ago to ask if she could showcase her current work in Valdez’s gallery.

"Honestly, I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes," Valdez said.

Wheeler is presenting her next exhibit at this week’s First Friday at Valdez’s gallery, 107 E. Charleston Blvd.

Along with her art, Wheeler is planning to show a video presentation of her working.

"Every day I painted, I had my friend take a photo," Wheeler said.

The photos were turned into a video with music, which Wheeler hopes to show at 7:30 p.m.

The subject of her main piece is called "Claire Bear."

"The owners of Claire (a dog) asked me to paint her after she died," Wheeler said.

This will be the fourth time Wheeler has had an exhibit at a gallery at First Friday.

For more information on First Friday, visit firstfriday-lasvegas.com/.

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 387-5201.

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