Karla Moss Freeman
Oct. 5, 1935-May 11, 2017
Karla Moss Freeman, 81, died at home in Eureka, Calif., on May 11, 2017.
Karla Moss Freeman was born Karla Lu Kaplun on Oct. 5, 1935, in New York Hospital. Her parents, Jacob Wolf Spencer Kaplun and Rebecca “Betty” Weiser Kaplun, lived in Greenwich Village. Painters who came of age between the great wars, they were ardent intellectuals who instilled in Karla a passion for artmaking as a critical act of freedom and power in a world struggling to survive the rise of facism.
Edna Saint Vincent Millay, Franz Kline, Spencer Tracy and Kathryn Hepburn were a few of her “aunties and uncles.” Jake was a sailor with wanderlust. Betty was a schoolteacher.
When Jake shipped out for the next big adventure, Betty moved she, Karla and Karla’s older sister, Lois, to Shalom Aleichem, a secular Jewish housing complex in the Bronx which included artists’ studios, an auditorium and a garden.
Karla was a latchkey kid. She spent hours exploring art at Shalom Aleichem after school. Summers, Karla joined Jake in Provincetown, R.I., to study the new abstract expressionist voice of American painting. Karla attended the High School of Music and Art. She excelled in art history, writing and studio art, but chose to concentrate in studio art at the University of California Berkeley after she was told by her teachers that if she could write as well as she could paint, she better write since history had proven there were no great women artists. She persevered, graduating with a masters in art in 1959.
Karla had followed her childhood sweetheart, the artist Mel Moss, to California. She explored the progressive environment of the San Francisco Bay Area, shared a studio with Manuel Neri, heard Buckminster Fuller speak about design for a new age, and studied healing food and medicine. She fell in love with the Pacific Coast. She and Mel married and had a child, Tara. Karla taught art for San Francisco State and the UC Berkeley. Her work was featured in Prizewinning Paintings, published in 1959. Between 1960 and 1974 she had a solo show every two years in the Bay Area.
She was living in San Anselmo with 5-year-old Tara in 1968 when she met Carlos, who became the love of her life. They shared almost 50 years together, inspired by travel, adventure and art. Karla and Carlos took film classes, then drove to New York City, intending to move to Greece. In New York, cousins Willa de Sousa and Dan Breslaw shared images of Alaska from a recent stay at the Kilcher Homestead.
Karla was expecting a baby. A Korean war veteran, Carlos wanted their child to have the option to avoid the draft. They drove to Mazatlan, Mexico. Tara attended a Mexican convent school, Karla kept house and Carlos fished with the locals. He wrote to Yule Kilcher asking for work on his fishing boat. Two weeks after Asia was born in Mazatlan, they drove to Homer.
Karla and the girls stayed at the Kilcher homestead, learning to wildcraft from the Kilcher women, while Carlos and Otto ran the F/V Mary M. They returned to the San Francisco Bay Area for the winter. After Molly Lou was born there, the Freeman family returned to Alaska. They purchased land on McNeil Canyon and Carlos built a house. While caring for three daughters and several foster children, Karla gardened, raised chickens and ducks, smoked fish and sewed clothing. She hauled groceries in a toboggan over snow, ice and mud. Little time was left for her art; however she kicked off Homer’s first Spring Arts Festival with a memorable lecture on the history of world art to a packed gym in 1978.
Karla produced radio independently. Hotel Mars, her weekly literary program on KBBI, featured dramatic readings of great literature in local voices. In 1980, ’82 and ’84 she awarded grants from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce The People Speak, stories of transition and change in Alaska. Karla flew all over rural Alaska interviewing indigenous leaders, elders and artists. The program was syndicated by Alaska Public Radio Network.
When most of the children had moved out of the house, Karla returned to painting. She taught art for 22 years at the Kachemak Bay and Kenai River Campuses of the University of Alaska Anchorage, nurturing many painters noted in Homer today. She showed her art work at the Pratt Museum, Alaska Pacific University, Kenai River Campus Gallery and Bunnell Street Arts Center.
Karla and Carlos moved back to Mexico in 2007. In their early 70s, they settled into the community of Todos Santos with the same vision that carried them to Alaska. Once again, they built a studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Karla’s new body of work married the bold abstract mark of the palette knife with the vibrant color of the Sierra Laguna mountains. She was invited to join galleries in Cabo – San Jose and Todos Santos. She hosted family reunions in Mexico with much feasting and sometimes including 10 additional family members. Health concerns caused her sudden return to the states last year, where she set up her 10th and final studio near Humboldt Bay in Eureka, Calif. Karla painted until her health deteriorated and she lost sensation in her fingers. She died at home on May 11 from complications caused by pancreatic cancer, surrounded by loved ones and flowers from her garden.
Karla had 20 solo exhibitions of her artwork. Her paintings, pastels and monoprints are featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery, Casa Dahlia Gallery in Cabo San Jose, Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer, and the permanent collections of the Alaska State Art Bank, The Pratt Museum, and many private art collections along the Pacific Coast.
She is survived by her husband, Carlos Freeman; her sister, Lois Schneyer; nephews, Matt and Joel Schneyer; niece, Jess Franklin; her daughters, Tara Moss, Asia and Molly Lou Freeman, and grandchildren, Sandor Stockfleth, Trevor Bice, Talia and Leila Moss, Jacob Freeman Marquardt and Roman Carlos Michel Serrière.
Karla’s family anticipates a memorial service in Homer this summer.