Announcing Our 2024 McKnight Artist Fellows

L: Wen-Li Chen. R: Karen Wirth, photo by Rik Sferra

Please join us in congratulating the 2024 McKnight Book Artist Fellows, Wen-Li Chen and Karen Wirth! Wen-Li Chen is an interdisciplinary visual artist, art educator, and designer whose work is rooted in poetry and family history. Karen Wirth is an artist and educator who works within book arts, sculpture, and architecture with focuses on shape and form.

Wen-Li and Karen will both be awarded $25,000 in unrestricted funds to explore and deepen their art practices thanks to our partnership with the McKnight Foundation, which supports two exceptional Minnesota-based book artists annually. The pair will also receive a range of professional benefits through MCBA, including studio visits from a national critic/curator; a travel stipend, residency opportunity, and educational stipend; the opportunity to participate in an artist panel at Open Book; 24/7 studio access for two years; and a group exhibition in MCBA’s Main Gallery.

Drawing influence from her personal life experiences and cultural background, Wen-Li  hopes this opportunity will create space for her practice to evolve. “(The) McKnight Fellowship supports me in a way that allows me to slow down the process of reflecting on more critical thinking and risk-taking in a more sustainable creative cycle that can elicit spirits of conceptual development with long-term research as a basis.”

Chen hopes to utilize the MCBA studios to explore letterpress and screen printing, with a focus on type and text to delve into themes of bias, loss, silence, and misunderstanding within language.

“Art is always a way to reeducate myself, share different ideas, and possibly demolish the invisible barriers caused by cultural norms and the unspoken standards of language,” shared Wen-Li Chen.

During the McKnight Fellowship year, Karen Wirth will be working on two bodies of work that highlight her various areas of expertise. “One, a 40-year exploration of architecture and the book, will be celebrated in a retrospective exhibition at MCBA/Open Book.” she states. “The other, based on research and residencies in the Arctic, is an entirely new direction. To be ending and starting simultaneously feels so right at this stage of my career.”

Within her practice, Wirth investigates the natural environment, science, and human experience through her books and sculptures. She identifies as an avid traveler, with a curiosity and drive to learn that informs her work. 

“The McKnight Fellowship will enable me to completely immerse myself in this work, receive critical feedback, and engage with national and international artists and critics. A life-changing moment can come at any age, and the McKnight will propel that moment into a long-term future.” stated Wirth.

The finalists were selected by esteemed jurors Jill Chisnell, Paul John, and Tatana Kellner (bios below). They shared their impressions of the two artists and their work following virtual studio visits with the finalists in May.

“Karen Wirth’s work spans multiple mediums while highlighting the art of the book in purposeful and meaningful ways,” noted Jill Chisnell. “There is a clear thread connecting all of her work. It will be exciting to see how it continues to evolve.”

Regarding Chen, Tatana Kellner shared, “Wen-Li Chen’s work stood out in its poetic beauty exploring her Kavalan heritage. I was impressed by the haunting imagery delving into the issue of immigration, inheritance, ritual, celebration, and mourning, providing the viewer with a window into her world.”

We invite you to learn more about the 2024 McKnight Book Artist Fellows below by viewing their winning portfolios to be introduced to their artistic practice. Beneath that, you can also find biographical information about our jurors.

Congratulations to our 2024 fellows!

Wen Li-Chen


Wen-Li Chen is a Taiwanese-born, Saint Paul-based interdisciplinary visual artist, art educator, and visual communication designer. Wen-Li is moved to encounter and present intergeneration, dwelling, and inheritance through oblique poetics, vulnerable histories, enduring relationships, and personal experiences. Her artwork often includes, but is not limited to, books, photo essays, photography, videos, found objects, and installations.

Wen-Li has shown her works internationally and nationally. Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Central Library collected two of her artist books. She was a finalist for the Jerome Early Career Fellowship (2020-2021). She has received grants, fellowships, and residencies, including Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals, VAF (Warhol Foundation), Lanesboro Artist Residency, and NCAF (National Culture and Arts Foundation, Taiwan). In addition, she has done projects and collaborated with several international organizations and creative individuals, such as the Ministry of Culture (Taiwan) and the Taiwan Academy (NYC). She received her M.Des. with a focus on photography from The Glasgow School of Art in the UK. She is an adjunct faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, teaching experimental typography and critique seminars. She previously taught at UW-Stout for graphic design, 2D design foundation, and art photography.

On The Other Side of Sea, riso print, hand-sewn pages, color, hardcover with letterpress on cardboard, photography, 48 pages, 11x11x1.5 in, artist book, 2023
Untitled, risograph on newspaper print, 12”x28″, 2018, Soo VAC, Minnesota
The Distance Between, photography book, 29 images, 60 pages, including text, mixed papers with folding, 16.5×22.8×1 cm, 2012, Glasgow, UK
To My Unborn Child, book, 296 pages including texts and images, digital prints, hardcover, thread binding, 7”x9”x1″, 2018, solo exhibition, Richmond Gallery, Canada
Untitled, photography, 16.5″x23.4″, framed digital print on fine art paper, 2018, Soo VAC, Minnesota
Artist Statement

Formally trained in foreign language and literature and inspired by cinema, poetry, familial history, and personal experience, linked—by blood—to a dying indigenous Taiwanese tribe. Shifting under the constant flux of a small sociopolitical environment considered, by some, not to exist (Taiwan). With these inheritances both tethered and untethered, she cannot help but explore through fragments, further eroded by a wide array of media, mediums, platforms, methods, and internal motivations. For the “cross” in cross-disciplinary is the only way she knows how to express the feeling of being lost in ongoing intergenerational conflicts, to the confusion/conservation of identity, amid the loss of persistent anchors to memory and facing questions of authenticity itself.

The action of taking pictures binds memories and experiences onto a continual growth. Not unlike attempting to find comfort in motherhood, a way of being reconciled to memory by the promise for another future. My pictures—always made on the go—are simply a way of examining myself engaging in this world.

That being said, the intention of making is different from taking. The moment of taking a picture is also the evidence of its passing. Image making attempts to reengage the trace left in an image, the plasticity found in reorganizing memory and intention. However, no amount of altering can completely erase that initial sense of passing, death as a picture.

This intense gravity toward manipulating things already past is due to my own insecurity toward authenticity, continually de-centered by the dramatic shifts in generational norms and values commonly found under the rapid development of East Asia. Any attempt to relate to Taiwan from the perspective of being a woman finds my mother’s generation increasingly abstracted and my grandmother’s heritage nearly extinct (Indigenous Taiwanese).

Medium into material and back into becoming another medium. Photography and the photograph bridge in their countless reflections, intentions and personal memories in order to bring something back, namely an impossible security in being a Taiwanese woman. A half-blood offspring of dying people (Kavalan) populated more by old amateur photographs than those living today.

Karen Wirth


Karen Wirth is an artist and educator whose artwork ranges from books and sculpture to architecture. She co-designed the sculptural staircase at Open Book and four blue line light rail stations, all in Minneapolis. Her books include offset editions, one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces, and room-sized installations. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and is in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art Library, The Walker Art Center, the Getty Center, and Yale University. Wirth has received leadership fellowships from the Bush Foundation and American Council on Education, and artist fellowships from the Bush, McKnight and Jerome Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, NY State Council for the Arts, and Minnesota State Arts Board. Wirth holds an MFA in sculpture from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and a BFA in art education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a professor emeritus at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she served as the interim president, the vice president of academic affairs and the chair of fine arts.

Chained Library, six altered found books, constructed wood covers, engraved brass plaques, brass clasps, chains, 144”H x 32”W x 10″D, 2023
Flaggy Shore, digitally printed book, pamphlet stitched, slate chalk boards, etched slate, rocks,42”H x 60”W x 30”D, 2017
Cloud Cairns with Cloud Handbooks, digitally printed books, pamphlet stitched, photographic montage, 32”H x 40”W x 9”D, 2017
Paper Architecture, JAB (Journal of Artists’ Books) edition, offset printed edition, saddle stitched, 9”H x 5.75”W closed, 2017
Cocoon, accordion book with intersecting text pages, paper wrapper, archival inkjet, acid free paper, metallic rubbing stick, 3”H x 4 1/8”W closed, edition 93, 2023


Artist Statement

My work combines form and space, object and language, reading and deciphering. One thing leads to another, a slight change, a shift in a letter, or scale, and you find yourself in another place. I am drawn to metaphor: how objects represent themselves and something else, and how to decipher those relationships. 

I explore a very broad sense of place through close observation, research, and human experience, which takes form primarily through books and sculpture. Architecture, science, and the natural environment inform the work. As analogies, they allow me to develop ideas about space and experience, presence and absence, revelation and concealment. Curiosity and restlessness fuel my approach to work and life. I am an avid traveler and reader, and both are integrated into my research.


Jill Chisnell is the Art and Design Librarian at Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film and television from New York University and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout her professional career, Jill has blended her educational background, experience, and personal interests to creatively connect with users and add value to library collections and services. An artist and crafter, Jill uses reclaimed materials and found objects in her work. Since 2012, she has focused her artistic practice on curating and cataloging collections of small treasures in glass jars that she calls jarchives. Jill is a co-founder of Handmade Arcade, Pittsburgh’s first independent craft fair, started in 2004. 


Paul John is an artist, community organizer, photographer, and educator. His work is to connect people and create community via resource sharing, bookmaking, hosting events, and institution building. Paul co-founded Endless Editions and the Brooklyn Art Book Fair. Both organizations focus on creating free or low-risk opportunities in independent publishing and bookmaking.  Paul is the Head of Community at NEW INC, an incubator program that operates through the New Museum in NYC. Previously, Paul developed the Risograph Printing program at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, was the Coordinator of Printing and Publishing at the Jan van Eyck Academie, and taught Risograph printing at the School of Visual Arts.


Tatana Kellner’s work is rooted in social issues. She has been exhibited in numerous venues across USA, Canada and Europe, and she has had over 50 solo exhibitions. Recently, her work has been selected for inclusion in Hunterdon Museum, Art Alive (Delhi, India),  Pen & Brush Gallery (NYC), KIPNZ Gallery (Walton, NY), Ringling School of Art (Sarasota, FL), the Everson Museum, University of Albany Museum, Dorsky Museum, CEPA (Buffalo), Kentler International Drawing Space, Collar Works, (Troy, NY), New York Public Library, among many others.  Kellner is a co-founder and past artistic director of Women’s Studio Workshop. In 2021 she was inducted into the Hall of Champions, North American Hand Papermakers. Kellner is a recipient of numerous grants and awards, including  the Pollock Krasner Foundation, The Creative Climate Award, the Puffin Foundation, Photographer’s Fund Award (CPW), New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, and many others. 

About the McKnight Artist & Culture Bearers Fellowship Program

Founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, the McKnight Foundation’s arts program is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Support for individual working Minnesota artists has been a cornerstone of the program since it began in 1982. The McKnight Artist & Culture Bearers Fellowships Program provides annual, unrestricted cash awards to outstanding mid-career Minnesota artists and culture bearers in 15 different creative disciplines. Program partner organizations administer the fellowships and structure them to respond to the unique challenges of different disciplines. Currently the foundation contributes about $2.8 million per year to its statewide fellowships. For more information, visit

About the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research.