Karen Holt Isaacson   1946 – 2011

Karen Holt Isaacson succumbed to cancer on March 17, 2011. Karen was a gifted artist, poet, writer, scientist and musician. She was also a wonderful wife, mother, and grandmother.

Through her formative years in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Karen learned two skills that would make her successful in life. She could always find a way to identify the challenge in a task, and she developed the ability to focus with precision while taking pride in the results. This began with hours of practice on the piano as a child. She considered that music might be her calling until she realized that she didn’t like performing in front of others. At the age of 8 she became an entrepreneur for the first time, creating a home beauty salon. As a teenager, she helped run the family Dairy Queen and would proudly claim that she could break down and reassemble the ice cream machine on her own in record speed. She could also make 5 perfect cones at a time in one hand.

After graduating from Oklahoma State University, Karen went on to build a career that was truly inspiring. She began as a microbiologist, researching sea urchins in Hawaii and then mineral metabolism in Dallas. She described her time in Waikiki, with swimsuit under lab coat, as “the most fabulous job ever.” When her twin brother passed away at the age of 34, Karen realized it was time to pursue her true passion and dedicated herself to art. With her uncanny ability to capture the essence of another soul on canvas, portraits became her signature work. Her entrepreneurial skills allowed her to turn her talent into a business. Her work adorns the walls of private residences and institutions from Chicago to Fort Worth and over the years she has accumulated accolades from The Oil Painters of America to The National Arts Club in New York.

Karen lived life to the fullest. With Karen, there was no time like the present. It was her goal to make every occasion a special occasion. She was known to fib to a restaurant waiter that someone was celebrating a birthday, just for the excitement of a song and the reaction of the innocent recipient. She loved to laugh and spend time with friends and family and her exuberance was contagious.

There are a couple of things that Karen would like you to remember. She believed that we are all part of and intertwined with nature. Karen had a special bond with the wind, the water and the sun. And squirrels. She also believed that everyone has the potential to be creative. If you feel the urge to start using the right side of your brain but don’t know where to begin, Karen would tell you to start by going outside to see a tree. I mean really SEE a tree.

Karen is survived by her loving husband, her daughter, two grand children, and hundreds of beautiful works of art.


Coming from a family of artists, Karen Holt carried on the tradition, when she turned from her biological science career of fourteen years, towards that of art. A native of Texas, fourth born in a family of five children, Karen's twin brother's life and death were the inspiration for her change in career direction.

Painter, poet, author, and teacher, Karen is nationally recognized and honored for her artistic excellence. Her work has been described as classical in its nature and composition, and yet the contents remain very much of today. Her compelling art creates a space for pause and reflection, depicting quiet, unguarded moments in our everyday lives. Paintings talk to us—they engage and encourage dialogue. Be it her distinctive, insightful Portraiture, or Classical Fine Art oils, they invite us to another level of knowing.

Karen’s poetry, written in parallel with her paintings, may offer guidance in this conversation between viewer and art. By sharing the lessons she learned and embraced during her creation of the painting, she shares yet another perspective, another way of seeing.

The artist passionately believes we each possess innate and abundant creativity, and strives to encourage others to step into their own creative space, ” to see” at many different levels.DiscoveryShop, a customized, progressive outdoor leaning event, facilitates accessing and unlocking our creativity while experiencing nature, environmental journaling, and innovative exploration with a "playful, colorful twist".

A glimpse into how this happens for Karen can be experienced in the intimate format of her exquisitely designed gift book, CAN YOU SEE ME? An Unveiling of the Human Spirit. It demonstrates the deep connection between hope, healing, and creativity, and serves as a reminder that we are not alone on this journey.

Her life work is about opening to possibility, discovered and expressed through the painted image, the poetic verse, or the environmental journal. She translates feeling into form, value of light into shape, bridging the old with the new, the classical with the contemporary, producing timeless works of art--celebrating the individual and the value of life.


  • Elected Full Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America; she was one of 26 at the time of her election. President and Founder of OPA, the late Shirl Smithson, said of Holt, "I consider her an artist's artist. She received an Award of Excellence at OPA's premiere exhibition at Prince Galleries in Chicago. The show consisted of 187 of the country's top oil painters. Karen was juried in like a snap of the finger. There is no doubt of her quality."
  • Exhibits work nationwide, including: the National Arts Club, New York; the Graham Center Museum, IL; the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, Washington DC; University of Texas, Dallas; and Palette and Chisel Academy, Chicago, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, OKC, the Myerson Symphony Center, Dallas, and Dallas Women's Museum, TX.
  • Dedicated to portrait painting and the exhibition of fine art that embrace the value of life and the individual, Holt strives to connect with others. After seeing the work, a viewer said, "It took my breath away, for it was like looking at myself. I was so moved and thankful that God gifted someone with the talent to put that in front of me." Another remarked, "Her work breaks through the boundaries of language, communicating the universal feelings common to all."
  • Holt has had numerous One-Person Exhibitions and many private receptions hosted by collectors from Seattle, Dallas, Houston and Chicago. One such collector was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article, which featured Holt and her work, "Karen's portrait paintings do more than just look like the person. They really grab the person's soul. I am not sure how she does it. It may have a lot to do with her incredible ability to understand people."

NATIONAL HONORS & EXHIBITIONS

Oil Painters of America, Full Signature Member
Chicago Society of Artists, Inc, Juried Selection
Portrait Society of America, Inc
The National League of American Pen Women, Inc, Juried Selection

Knickerbocker Society, Full Signature Member
The Salmagundi Club, New York
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, TX

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK
The Charles Sumner School & Museum, Washington, DC
Museum of the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, IL
The Myerson Symphony Center, Dallas, TX

Dallas Women's Museum, Dallas TX
Texas Christian University, Wright Boardroom, Sadler Hall, Ft. Worth, TX
The Norris Cultural Arts Center, St Charles, IL
Joan Cawley Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

The National Arts Club, New York
Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis, IN
Dee J. Kelly Alumni & Visitors Center, TCU, Ft. Worth, TX
New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA

Winthrop Rockefeller Building, Ranch Management Program, TCU, Ft. Worth, TX
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Oklahoma City, OK
University of North Texas, Murchison Performing Arts Center, Denton, TX
The Palette & Chisel Academy, Chicago