Getting to Know Cherrywood’s Artists

It’s not like I actively stalk my creative neighbors but damn if I don’t love meeting people in the ‘hood who make things.

Take, for instance, the morning I was picking up a treat for my honey at Bennu Coffee. The friendly barista knew the apron-clad woman ordering after me and solicitously asked how work was coming. Boop boop boop–my “creatives” radar immediately began pinging when she mentioned how the upcoming cookbook’s recipe testing had been keeping her busy. You know I introduced myself.

Austin’s east side shelters an inspiring and thriving collection of creative people. Through presenting at Baranoff Elementary’s Young Authors Conference, I met a few-streets-over playwright. Throw a rock from any corner and you’ll hit some architect’s house. Evening walks reveal musicians practicing and active movie sets.

And then there are the artists. . . .

Writing about East Austin Studio Tour

Every year, I pick up the East Austin Studio Tour catalogue and thrill to note the many participants within walking distance. There–on my street! On my block!

EAST is how I first encountered painter Karen Alexander.

That wet, cold November weekend some years back, James and I wandered into Alexander’s welcoming studio. Showcased in a small repurposed backyard building, her large, pixelated paintings of plants were so beautifully vibrant I immediately made a vow: one day, I’d commission an original work to immortalize our giant agave.

Mature agave plant in Cherrywood neighborhood
This agave is a statement plant, no matter the season.

Fast-forward a few years to sprucing up the house for Preservation Austin’s upcoming homes tour, Into the Woods. (Trust me; no matter how nicely you’ve kept house, some areas of improvement spring forward once you know hundreds of people will walk through it.) The large white wall dominating my office clearly needed help.

I’m notoriously selective about artwork, which should be intensely personal and always meaningful. Rushing out for filler didn’t feel authentic (nor, practically speaking, economical; that’s a big space).

Hmmm, I wondered. What about borrowing something from a local artist I admire?

Naturally, I remembered my neighbor. You can imagine how honored I was when Alexander said yes.

Art by Karen Alexander in office at French Place

When the tour was over, Alexander graciously collected “Grey Day.” That lonely hanger remains; I haven’t been able to take it down, much less put up anything else. Before, the wall was simply bare; now, it feels empty.

One day, I think, one day. . . .

Interviewing the Artist

Late this summer, Cherrywood’s newsletter editors reached out. They wanted a profile for The Flea’s fall issue–would I interview Karen Alexander? Oh, my, my; oh, hell yes! How could I pass up the chance to better know this artist?

Over tacos at Mi Madres, Alexander and I talked about family, art, “women’s work,” Austin’s growth, and the creative incubator that is our neighborhood. Back at her “shedio,” Alexander spoke about light, perspective, artistic influences, past and future projects, and the inspirational synergy she and her daughter–Caitlin B. Alexander, also an artist–share.

I could step close to a work in progress, touch, move back, take photos, ask questions.

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All of which you can do, too, if you stop by Karen Alexander’s studio during EAST this November 10–11 and 17–18. She’ll be there, talking about her art and representing Cherrywood’s creative community. The only unknown is whether or not you’ll run into me there, too.

Read More

Bennu Coffee

 Any Night Grilling by Paula Disbrowe 

“Austin’s Artists Open Doors for Annual East Austin Studio Tour” 

“A Backdoor Look at Being on a Homes Tour”

Karen Alexander’s artwork

All the deets about EAST 2018, including the map

When it’s up online, I’ll share the link to The Flea article

Wall art by Caitlin B. Alexander at her mother's studio "And her heart is full and hollow like a cactus tree while she's so busy being free"

Wall art by Caitlin B. Alexander (above) hangs on Karen Alexander’s “shedio” wall. Inscription is from Joni Mitchell’s song, “Cactus Tree”; wood wall slats are original to the building.

Interior view of Karen Alexander's studio with artwork in progress on easel

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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