You can almost hear members of the Rat Pack snapping their fingers, sauntering down the Strip, angling for a piece of the action. All that’s missing is a Vegas showgirl.
Karen Jaikowski, a 1992 Graphic Design graduate, has that covered. Karen, who operates Vegas Girls, has become a distinctive presence on the Las Vegas art scene, most recently via her own gallery/studio space, which serves as a kind of tribute to a vanishing Vegas archetype. As she told the Las Vegas Sun recently, “I’ve wanted to create my own iconic character for our beautiful, exciting town. I wanted the character to represent all the hard-working women who built Las Vegas, not only the showgirls and performers, but also the servers, support staff and all professionals.”
Karen laments the passing of an era even as she celebrates the style it inspired. “I don’t think people know much about showgirls anymore,” she says. “There are maybe one or two shows out there, no Folies Bergere or Jubilee. It’s sad, because it made Las Vegas so exciting… You have to remind people now of our precious gems of the city. I want people to feel like it was with old Vegas.”
That, in a nutshell, describes her latest project — and the artwork she’s been creating for nearly three decades. “The Las Vegas community has embraced supporting art and making projects for the artists here,” she says. “When I came here 26 years ago, there wasn’t much of an art scene, not even a building to house artist studios. That has totally changed, with more and more opportunities for artists.”
As she recounted for the Sun, Karen’s infatuation with Vegas happened early: “I immediately fell in love with Las Vegas when my father brought me here for my 21st birthday. We loved the shows, the showgirls, the entertainment and all the bright lights. I told my father on that trip, ‘I am going to live here.’” Five years later, she moved to Nevada and began to build a career around art and design, tailored primarily to the gaming and entertainment industries – costumes, hotel and casino commissions, even a key to the city.
Karen says she designs as much for locals as for visitors. “I create things that make me happy and that usually translate to others,” she says. “I always keep everyone in my mind — I’m inclusive. When I see someone get excited when they see my work, it’s the best energy ever. It makes me know I am on the right path.”
Reflecting on her college years, Karen says “Woodbury molded me!” She recalls one mentor in particular – a nurse who instilled in her a commitment to always give back. “That really made me proud of my university, and that has always stuck in my mind. I felt very at home on this campus, knowing that I would get an education from a school that took pride in molding the next generation to do things out in our communities. And people would take the time to show me skills that I needed for art. I love what Woodbury provided me – knowledge and perseverance and believing in myself.”