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 About M. Fortuna

I was raised on the Lynnhaven River in Virginia, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  The ocean was always in the air. 


My idea of fun was to find a fish, bury it, and dig it up weeks later.  I was curious about what was happening to it underground.  This was a very material kind of play…very keyed into observation and process.  I would sometimes ask my mother to pick up a fish with organs intact at the market.  I was fascinated with swim bladders, which allow fish to rise or sink in the water. She would bring me fish and I would go into the laundry room and cut them up. 


I explored the river and its tidal margins and swamps alone… on foot, and in boats.


I come to the making of art from an idiosyncratic place.  Trained as a biologist, I have worked in laboratories at Yale and Chapel Hill.  I was a summer intern at Valley Forge Army Hospital in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War.  I have moved into the world of the naturalist observer as well as the maker of things.  Keen to handle materials from paint to earth to found metal and smithereens (smashed automobile safety glass), I work the improbable boundaries between physical matter and spoken language.


My studio is something of a lab/shop/pharmacy/field station/library.  I think of it as a boathouse.

SWANSQUARTER is a refuge for poets of all persuasions. 

I invite you to join me there. 

Karen Parker Lears is an artist who works under the name M. Fortuna.

She is an Associate Editor of Raritan: A Quarterly Review

To contact her, click here 

For the article, A Conversation With Artist Karen Parker Lears  (The Hedgehog Review, Summer 2010) 

please click here.  

Relics of visitation.

Small tokens left behind when nobody is home.


Made on copper fragments cut from old guttering downspouts salvaged from a medical infirmary in Pennsylvania.  The gradations of natural verdigris offer astonishing invitations for visual play.  These miniatures come in various sizes from approximately 2 x 2 inches to 2 x 4 inches.  They are cut using roofer’s tinsnips then hand filed to soften edges.

Applied materials include:

oil paintings of moths

markings in ink and graphite

crushed colored glass

found metal, crushed

scraps of found jewelry

adhesives used as paint

organic debris

cold solder

chicken wire



mica dust

found insects

Old Anglo Saxon word.  I draw many meanings from this single word…related to illumination, sparking, and buoyancy.  

I am exploring the deep materiality of light in these intimate pieces of poured gesso, paint, burnished with mica dust on Belgian linen. 

Beyond bounds and into all weather.

In an open boat.

Looking hard.


Extended moment of dim atmospheric light.

Dawn or Dusk.

Realm of the Uncanny.  Doubling.

The photographer's sweet light.

The Blue Hour.

materials include

oil, acrylic, volcanic ash,

glass microbeads, mica dust

on Belgian linen

Shallows just off the coast of Cape Hatteras where 

Labrador Current and Gulf Stream meet.  

Site of hundreds of shipwrecks.






Reflections on refuge and loss…on being lost, being at a loss.

On finding.

On maybe. 

On drifting; on navigation.  On wounds as portals and as maps. 

On tending -- soldering, salving, suturing, bandaging.

On salvage

Certain materials keep turning up:

barbed wire



…..and sometimes:

graveyard dirt

wood ash

mica dust

found metal

found fabric

silk fabric


watch/clock innards


found insects

oil paint

acrylic paint

tempera paint

oil pastel


old window glass

old cabinet screen

magazine image of buffalo

pressed blooms


A game of fortune for 1,2 3,4, or 6 players.  Players play to collect little brass beasts, moving their marble markers around silk thread spools.  Winner can choose to risk “Endgame” with the toss of a silver dollar.

For Game Rules, click here

My invented cartoon characters and sometimes alter egos.

Historically, Gandy Dancers were itinerant or prison gang laborers who laid and repaired railroad tracks.  They worked to the rhythms of singing in call and response.  Their labored movements performed a kind of dancing.  Singing and dancing in chains!

The eleven collages presented here are illuminations for the book, Women Writers of Latin America:  Intimate Histories, edited by Magdalena Garcia-Pinto (1993).  This volume is a series of conversations with ten contemporary writers well known throughout Latin America and Europe.  These women speak candidly about the mysteries and pleasures of childhood and the intricacies of family history.  Several tell of political terror and exile.  All provide insights into the creative imagination and speculate on the role of the artist in the larger culture.


Sparkling with remembered and imagined detail, the language of these women startles us with vivid visual imagery.  Fragments of their writings are interspersed throughout the interviews, echoing themes explored in the conversations.


These women are treasures of visual inspiration.  The task I set myself as an artist was to create a work for each writer that would draw on her rich language and experience to produce a metaphorical portrait.  I wanted to capture her most significant memories and concerns as revealed in the interviews.  I hoped to achieve a poetry that celebrates the power, the humanity—the largeness—of these women.  A flowering of female creativity that is both timely and timeless.

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