From corporate to creative

Lake Placid artist opens wildlife gallery on Main Street

Wildlife photographer Pamela Karaz sits among her art and her dogs, Amber and Lily, in The Curious Otter in Lake Placid during the art gallery’s opening day on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — Pamela Karaz quit her corporate job 30 years ago to become a wildlife painter. Yesterday, she celebrated the opening of The Curious Otter, her new wildlife photography gallery on Main Street.

Karaz, a Lake Placid resident, used to work in marketing for International Business Machines Corporation. But deep down, she had a creative drive.

“I never really fit in the corporate world,” Karaz said. “I could do it, and I did it, but it was not me. It was not who I am. I’m a very creative person, and I need to create.”

Karaz grew up in an artistic home that encouraged a connection with nature. Both of her parents had an affinity for birding; they’d make a list of all the birds they saw each year. Karaz’s dad painted wildlife as a hobby, a talent Karaz inherited. She decided to leave IBM to pursue a career in wildlife painting.

She used to take her own reference photos for paintings, which she said is essential to understand the experience and feel the emotions of seeing the wild animals in real life. The photos weren’t anything artistic, just snapshots. But in 2014, there was a population surge of snowy owls where she lived. She said around 10 of the owls were hanging out in her area, and she photographed them every day for nearly three months.

After that, Karaz said she was addicted. She invested in a better camera body and longer lenses, and she hasn’t stopped shooting since. She said that’s when her focus shifted from painting to photography.

Karaz moved to Lake Placid with her husband from the Utica area a year ago. They’ve worked around town a bit, but Karaz said they were walking their dogs down Main Street one day when they saw the “For Rent” sign in the storefront Green Goddess Market had recently left vacant. The couple’s wheels started turning.

Karaz felt there was a void in local wildlife photography, and the couple thought that the high tourist traffic on Main Street would benefit a wildlife art gallery. The couple checked into renting the storefront and decided it was perfect. After a new coat of paint, the gallery was ready to go.

The Curious Otter is open at 2419 Main St. from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Karaz’s photos can be found on the gallery’s website, www.thecuriousotter.com.

Wild observations

Karaz has had the opportunity to observe and capture wild animals living in their natural habitat, like one young family of gray foxes that lived underneath her friend’s barn. Karaz perched in the second-story hay loft of a nearby barn and photographed the family from a small hole, unnoticed. She got to photograph the mother fox and her kits for two weeks.

“You get addicted to that,” Karaz said. “You get addicted when you see wildlife there in front of you. It’s like, how do you not just stay there and watch them, and potentially capture these incredible, magical moments?”

Karaz said watching and capturing the gray fox family is one of her most memorable experiences throughout her time photographing animals. She enjoyed watching the mother spend time on a rock, which Karaz dubbed “Mama’s rock,” near the barn where the foxes lived. She said that’s where the mother would sprawl out for some alone time. The kits would approach her one at a time, respectfully and lovingly — otherwise, Karaz said, the mother would get annoyed and snap at them.

“So they were really, really well behaved kits,” Karaz said.

Karaz has captured other wild animals like a family of blue herons, a gray owl, loons, bison and Canadian geese. She said she’s experienced some magical moments.

“And it’s the magical moments that really talk to my soul,” she added.

Karaz said she only prints photographs that have a story and a meaning behind them.

“Those are the moments that I choose to print off, because hopefully they’ll touch other people’s souls and make them care about the animal, and realize that we’re not alone in this world,” she said. “There are wild animals all around us, and we have an obligation to be good out in nature and not destroy nature, because these animals live there.”

Her origins as a painter are evident in her photographs. The feathers of a Pileated Woodpecker can easily be mistaken for brush strokes, and rich colors interact with deep shadows to create an almost three-dimensional, painted look. Karaz said the “painterly” aspect of her photographs is intentional.

“I go after that aspect of a photograph,” she said. “Ones that speak to me like an old Renaissance painting.”

All of the photographs on the walls of The Curious Otter are printed by infusing ink into metal, which Karaz said provides a luminosity to the photos that paper can’t.

Artists and works

The gallery also represents Lake Placid bronze sculptor PJ LaBarge, whose sculptures of various animals compliment Karaz’s work on the walls. Each sculpture is accompanied by a short story to familiarize people with the work.

Two Montana-based artists, Sandy Sisti and Zack Clothier, also have photographs in the gallery. Karaz said she wanted some pieces of animals like moose and bears at The Curious Otter, and Sisti and Clothier’s work features those and other animals.

Karaz said the gallery may have two special exhibits this year — one of wild horses in Montana and Wyoming, which she said would go up during the Lake Placid Horse Shows, and another undecided exhibit this fall.

Karaz co-owns The Curious Otter with her husband, Rich. She said Rich has an extensive background in retail that will serve the gallery well. The couple plans to split their time at the gallery, so they won’t need employees. However, they do have two furry unpaid volunteers — their golden retrievers, Amber and Lily, who spent opening day snoozing around the gallery and greeting visitors.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today