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Folk Artist Shares African American History With New Generation

Karen Collins reveals the inspiration for her miniature museum

Karen Collins

Sam Comen

Growing up, I was mesmerized by my friend's dollhouse. My parents couldn't afford to buy me one, but when I turned 40, I bought one for myself and decorated it. I didn't think of myself as an artist, but I started creating dioramas.

...I decided I wanted to influence Black children, to tell them how strong their people are and that we can overcome anything.

— Karen Collins

At first they were about daily life. Then in 1992, I had a shock. My son made a bad decision and was sent to prison for a long term; I became depressed. I was working on dioramas to keep my mind off my troubles, and I decided I wanted to influence Black children, to tell them how strong their people are and that we can overcome anything. That's how my miniature museum of African American history started. The idea took off, and soon I was invited to exhibit here in Compton and around Los Angeles.

Ours is a never-ending story, and I've only scratched the surface by creating vignettes of Harriet Tubman leading groups of people to freedom, Malcolm X's chronology of change, Martin Luther King Jr. preaching in Ebenezer Baptist Church, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, President Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement. I conduct a lot of research to ensure the accuracy of each shadow box.


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Folk artists, like me, are often misunderstood by the general art community. We are self-taught and tell stories about the culture of our people — whatever your race — through our work. Anybody can be a folk artist, and I hope to teach children, if they're inclined, to learn this craft and tell their own stories.  — As told to Jennifer E. Mabry

Retired teacher Karen Collins, 70, is the creator of the African American Miniature Museum.

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