Meet Claire Kat Erickson: a painter, animator, maker, and embroiderer who lives and works in Door County. With her art form Claire focuses on black identity while featuring people she has crossed paths with in travel, work, or in dreams.
I had the pleasure of hanging out with her in beautiful Baileys Harbor. Over a glass (or 2!) of rosé, we sat down and talked all things art, sustainability, and growing up in Door County.
Planted - original artwork by Claire Kat Erickson
KEEPER: In a few words how would you sum up your artistic ethos?
CKE: I would say, forward thinking, I would say equality, representing people of color, mostly female body. A word I used recently was "black-lash". Like the last series I did was these twisting women that kind of are taking up all this space, in weird environments, and it's kind of like you're awkwardly put here. And I feel awkward as a person of color, sometimes in predominantly white areas. But it's like, I'm here. I'm here too, and whether you want to be or not are here. So yeah, that's kind of where my thought of "black-lash" came from.
Claire wears KEEPER favorites, the Ease Tee and Balloon Pants
KEEPER: What has your experience been like living and growing up in Door County?
CKE: Maybe similar to some people, but different also. I first grew up in a suburb outside Chicago, before I moved to Door County. In Chicago, it was a very John Hughes, like suburb. I knew everybody on all the blocks. There was a paperboy, and an ice cream truck. It was great. There were all kinds of different people and families. I knew everybody, but also didn't and that was great. Moving to Door County, I was very surprised when I went to my first class and I was like, oh, this is really small for one and two, there's nobody here that looks anything close to me. Not that I needed that, but I was surprised. We moved here during nine eleven, and a little bit after my dad was actually there (in New York) when it happened, because he travels for work, so that was scary.
I remember in the early 2000s someone saying, "you probably shouldn't talk about or tell anyone that you're Palestinian" (because I'm black and Palestinian) And they were like, "we don't want you to get bullied for being Middle Eastern, so I wouldn't talk about that." So I really didn't talk about being bi-racial my entire time at school, until a new young teacher asked, "what else are you"? That was the first person in Door County that was like, "You're not just African American. Like, what else? Sorry, I'm so curious..." And I was like, oh, yeah, I'm also Palestinian. They were like, "Oh, my gosh, that's so interesting." And it made me feel cool and empowered about it for the first time ever. Because until then I was the black friend, Claire.
There were other kids too. There were a few students from Mexico, and there were other seasonal families. We loved when they came, they were all our friends.
Claire wears the Reclaimed Creative vintage two-piece floral terry set
CKE: cont. I had a great time. It was cool that like (in Door County), you never feel unsafe.
Growing up, Baileys Harbor was my playground, so was Ephraim, I could go anywhere. And I never felt weird or unsafe. When I visit my cousins in Milwaukee, I'm like, oh, we're not allowed to just go anywhere. I have the luxury of living on this tiny little peninsula...I think the best part is (growing up in Door County) it was cool to be in band. It was cool to be an artist. We weren't the basket cases. We weren't the weird kids, like in the Breakfast Club. It's like, no, it's cool to be involved in the arts here. It's cool to be involved with photography, to be involved in making clothes and modeling with your friends. That was a very normal thing growing up, like, we're gonna take pictures and we're gonna go paint this, and we're gonna start a band-- that was all so normal here.
KEEPER: So as a local do you have any favorite places to "get away" in Door County?
CKE: I think one of those spots for me is Portage Park in Sturgeon Bay, the beach is amazing, it's crystal clear. Sometimes it can be cold or callous on the lake, but it's feels really good. I've been there when it's raining and I've been swimming, I've been there when it's perfectly sunny. I've been there at sunset. It's just very magical. And there's a willow tree. It's just really amazing and healing I think.
KEEPER: What inspires you? Or do you have any sustainable/creative habits or practices to get inspired?
CKE: For me, mostly, I get inspired by everyone around me. Or, I'll see like a pattern or color or like a scene in nature, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I'm inspired to get to work". I make a lot of mood boards.
In terms of sustainability, and this is a new thing for me, because it's easy to hold on to old work. But it can be like, "Oh, that was when I was going through this period". Kind of like the idea of a tattoo. I'm not gonna cover it. That was who I was then (unless it's Garfield or something lol). But, I have been working on this the past couple years by going over old canvases. Seeing this, my mom said, it's kind of like the artists in the Renaissance-- where it's like, there's layers, behind it. So in that way, reusing and repurposing.
KEEPER: Any big happenings—professionally or personally—that you're excited about for the year ahead?
CKE: I do, I have a big opportunity with PBS, animating part of the documentary. So I'm really excited about that.
KEEPER: Any advice you'd give to fellow creatives about juggling an art practice with "regular life"?
CKE: I think that it's important create space from your work. it's important to be able to step away and take a breath of fresh air. And It's okay, if not everybody likes it. I don't love every piece of my work. I see it. I appreciate it. I don't always love it. Step away. And also try not to compare. I know, it's easy to compare, especially on Instagram, because sometimes it feels like nothing's original anymore. My advice is don't take it too seriously and step away from your work when you can.
KEEPER: Sustainability can feel like a daunting word at times. What are some ways you find that makes sustainability achievable/approachable?
CKE: In terms of sustainability I don't make prints very often. And when I do, I do a limited selection, I'd make sure they're really, really good quality, and that they're worth the money, and that I feel good about them. I don't just make willy-nilly cheap prints, because I feel like it's just taking up space, they're probably going to get thrown out, they're probably going to get damaged. And so I try to do limited releases of prints.
“Nervous as a Long-Tailed Deer” by Claire Kat Erickson, 2021, acrylic gouache on Arches paper.
KEEPER: Do you have a favorite quote or words you love?
CKE: Something I always come back to is a lyric by Belle & Sebastien which is: "Color my life with the chaos of trouble". In a way I feel it connects with my work. Stirring up good trouble to create positive change.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Claire! You can view more of Claire's work on Instagram. Stay tuned for more interviews and features on our favorites within the KEEPER community.