Born in 1953 in the suburbs of Chicago, Carla Stetson grew up in a house next to the railroad tracks on the outskirts of urban development. The Midwestern border ecology of urban encroachment on remnant prairie had a large impact on her childhood and continues to be reflected in her work.
She attended Kansas City Art Institute in the early 70s working in performance art and installation, documenting this work in photographs and video.
In 1987 Stetson moved to Minnesota, settling in Duluth for over 20 years. There she created three large-scale public sculptures for the City of Duluth along with many other art works and installation projects. She is best known for creating the Clayton Jackson McGhee Memorial, (2003) the first large scale memorial to victims of lynching in the United States.
In 2008, Stetson relocated to Ithaca, New York, to take a job as Professor of Art at Ithaca College. She currently works out of a large renovated barn studio/home on top of a hillside , where she lives with her partner David Hopkins.