Clifton Wayne Karhu was born in Duluth on November 23, 1927, along with his twin brother, Raymond Arthur Karhu. Their parents, Arne H. Karhu and Anna (Lido) Karhu, were both painters. Arne was born in Michigan on August 11, 1902. Anna was born in the state of Virginia on October 15, 1898, and moved with her family to White Township, just south of Aurora in St. Louis County, Minnesota, in the early 1900s. Her father was a farmer. Arne and Anna had moved to Duluth about 1925. Arne worked as a clerk for the George A. Hormel Co. on Michigan Street. In Duluth they first lived at 1430 East Third Street and then at 1112 East Third Street.
Clifton attended elementary school and then Franklin Junior High School, which was located at 411 East Seventh Street. Franklin was closed in 1946. The Karhu family left Duluth about 1944 and moved to Worthington, Minnesota.
Clifton attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and then served in the U.S. Army in Japan. He returned to Japan to work as a missionary and Bible salesman, but became disenchanted with the work and turned to art and teaching English. He worked in relative poverty for years, but eventually began creating traditional Japanese wood block prints that were very popular. He appeared on NBC’s Today Show in 1971, and was the subject of a lengthy article in the Los Angeles Times in 1986. Also in 1986, he presented a retrospective exhibition of his work at UMD’s Tweed Museum of Art.
Clifton and his wife Lois had three children, Philip, Joel, and Beth. Clifton died in Kanazawa, Japan, on March 24, 2007.