Portrait – Mrs. Thomas Hart Benton V

Sculptor Karen T. Taylor and Mrs. Thomas Hart Benton V

Barbara and me

The entire process of creating a sculpted portrait of Barbara Benton was a joy for me. She is a lovely woman, inside and out. An Oklahoma native of Choctaw heritage, Barbara spent years as a professional dance instructor. She has devoted five decades of dedicated service to the Order of the Eastern Star. From 2006-2009, she served as Most Worthy Grand Matron. In that role, she travelled many miles and enjoyed meeting people all over the world. During her tenure, she visited 16 countries, 10 Canadian Provinces, all 50 United States and 2 U.S. Possessions. The commission for the portrait, commemorative of her Eastern Star service, came from her husband Tom Benton who is the nephew of famed American artist Thomas Hart Benton. It is easy to see the strong family resemblance between uncle and nephew.

Artist Karen T. Taylor and Thomas Hart Benton V

Tom Benton and me in front of images of his late uncle. The upper center one is the well-known 1922 “Self Portrait with Rita” from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Barbara Benton and Betty Pat. Gatliff

Barbara Benton and Betty Pat. Gatliff

A special aspect of this project was that Barbara and I first became acquainted through our mutual friend, Betty Pat. Gatliff.  Barbara and Betty Pat. were college roommates at the Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha and have remained close ever since. Several issues had to be worked out during the planning stages of the portrait. Barbara has amazing knee-length hair reflective of her Native American heritage. However, she normally wears it in an elaborately twisted style of bun.

Barbara in Native American dress

Barbara in Native American dress




Her husband wanted the sculpture to be done with her hair down while wearing her Native American deer skin costume, headband and jewelry. Barbara felt that more people who knew her would expect to see her characteristic day to day bun hairstyle.  Another consideration was the fact that Barbara is well known for her beautiful presentations of the Lord’s Prayer in Choctaw sign language, which she has performed all over the world.  I suggested a solution that might appeal to everyone.  We decided to create the bust itself with an up-do hairstyle, but also add four panels around the base to show Barbara in Native attire and hairstyle. Each of the four bas relief panels around the base depict one on the postures from Barbara’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Bas relief panels that surrounded the base showing 4 postures of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in heaven", "Hallowed be thy name", "Forever and ever", "Amen"

Bas relief panels that surround the base and show 4 postures of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven”, “Hallowed be thy name”, “Forever and ever”, “Amen

Karen measuring Barbara Benton for her sculpted portrait


Barbara travels extensively and has a constantly busy schedule. I was fortunate to have two sittings with her for a total of only a few hours. I was able to supplement those sittings with photographs to complete the sculpted bust.

Karen T. Taylor working on the sculpture of Barbara Benton

Belmont Mansion in Washington, D.C.

Belmont Mansion in Washington, D.C.


The completed bust was cast in bronze and is now placed at the International Headquarters of the Order of the Eastern Star, General Grand Chapter in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of visiting and staying as a guest at the amazing headquarters building on New Hampshire Avenue NW in the Embassy Row area.  Formerly the Perry Belmont Mansion, the building was constructed between 1906-1909.  I am so delighted that my work is now a part of the estate.

Bronze of Barbara Benton



In the portrait, I opted to give Barbara an expression of contemplative dignity yet tried to hint at the grin that is always very close to the surface. Her calm spiritual nature always shows in her face, as does her sense of fun. I’m told that the expression changes as you walk around the piece…which I hope is true.  The forms of the earrings are meant to echo the shoulder forms and they are curved to better integrate them with the sculpture overall.  I chose to make her hair clip in the form of an eagle feather, a sacred symbol in her tribal heritage.

A particular surprise for me came when this portrait was chosen for an online exhibition by the National Sculpture Society, a first for me. Having this piece displayed in conjunction with artists whose work I have admired for years was an incredible honor for me.

Portrait of Barbara Benton by Karen T. Taylor

Profile views of Barbara Benton and her sculpted portrait

Sketch of Hajime

Occasionally, I enjoy doing a portrait sketch in a profile view. My friend Hajime Utsuno has a handsome profile, so I opted to portray his features from this angle. Dr. Utsuno is a lecturer in the Department of Oral Anatomy at Matsumoto Dental University in Japan. We met while at the University of Dundee in Scotland at a meeting of the International Association for Craniofacial Identification hosted by Professor Caroline Wilkinson and Professor Sue Black. We share a mutual interest in facial and dental anatomy as well as forensic facial reconstruction. Though Hajime often wears a very “professional face”, he is actually quite a character.  When I first told him I lived in Austin, he flashed a wide grin and said “Oh, I LOVE Stevie Ray Vaughan and played a little air guitar!”

Sketch of Hajime by Karen T. Taylor


CSI: New York logoI have enjoyed my role as forensic art consultant for the CSI: television franchise for many years. I have always viewed it as an opportunity to encourage accurate presentation of forensic art to the viewing public. Though “Hollywood” considerations have sometimes over-ridden my advice, my experience with the shows has always been a positive one. For the CSI:NY  episode “American Dreamers”, I was asked to consult with writers, prepare sculptural props and travel to Los Angeles to act as an on-set consultant for the actors. This can be a demanding and stressful task but I have always embraced it.

Storyboard for writers and producers

Storyboard for writers and producers

The earliest step was to consult with writer Eli Talbert about how he hoped to utilize forensic art as an integral part of the plot he was crafting for the episode. I prepared a storyboard of sketches to give an idea of the various stages of the props I could develop. This allowed insight so that the director and producers could more precisely plan a shooting schedule for the facial reconstruction action, once the time crunch of filming actually began.

In advance of my travel to California, I created the prop facial reconstructions in multiple steps, sort of like it is done for cooking shows. It would be far too slow for me to do a finished sculpture while the actual filming was taking place. Instead, the plan was that one step would be filmed, then the next and so on. Once edited together, the viewer would get the sense that it all happened as a smoothly flowing process. The multiple steps I made were then shipped ahead before my arrival for filming.

Three of the steps of the prop facial reconstructions by Karen T. Taylor for CSI:NY

Three of the five steps of the prop facial reconstructions

For this particular episode, actress Vanessa Ferlito portrayed CSI “Aiden Burn” who was doing the sculpted facial reconstruction. She listened carefully to my guidance and worked very hard to accurately achieve the impression that she was doing the sculpture. Once shots of my hands working were interwoven with shots of hers as part of a “process shot”, the effect was totally realistic.  They kindly allowed my book, Forensic Art and Illustration, to appear in the shot on Aiden’s work table.

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing "work" on the prop facial reconstruction by Karen T. Taylor

Actress Vanessa Ferlito doing “work” on the prop facial reconstruction

My time on the set is always challenging yet fun. I enjoy the interaction with writers and production staff as well as the actors.

Karen T. Taylor with lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito on a break from filming

With lovely actress Vanessa Ferlito while on a break from filming

Artist Karen T.Taylor with writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

With writer Eli Talbert on the set of CSI:NY

Artist Karen T. Taylor and writer Eli Talbert reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process for the show CSI:NY

KTT and Eli reviewing some of the shots of the facial reconstruction process

All in all, this episode was loads of hard work and I feel that it turned out well. It boggles my mind a bit that the work I did was viewed by so many millions of people. I do particularly like the fact that fictional police procedural television shows have great power to generate interest in real-life crime issues. Over the years, I have come to truly admire actor Gary Sinise and the tireless work he has done for American military personnel and veterans.  Though he is “Detective Mac Taylor” on CSI:NY, he will forever be Lieutenant Dan!

Sketch of Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne belonged to a very special club and one where no one wants to be a member. He was the parent of a murdered child. He is best known as a writer for Vanity Fair, friend to celebrities, investigative journalist, and court watcher. He became a recognizable television personality via his commentary during the first O.J. Simpson trial and later on his show Power, Privilege and Justice. But, it is his role as the father of beautiful murdered 22-year-old actress, Dominique Dunne that drove him in the pursuit of justice. His personal outrage developed in the early 80s when his daughter’s killer was given very lenient treatment by a Los Angeles judge, resulting in a sentence of only 6 and a half years for voluntary manslaughter. This injustice propelled Dunne for the remainder of his life as he valiantly campaigned to give crime victims a voice through his work. His research for the fictional 1993 novel A Season in Purgatory centered around the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut. The novel has been credited with being part of the impetus for the retrial and conviction of Kennedy family member Michael Skakel for Moxley’s murder.  I admired Mr. Dunne very much…and he was certainly a “good guy” in my eyes.

Pencil sketch of Dominick Dunne by Karen T. Taylor