Art … It’s What We Do

Random thoughts are a malady, and one came charging through this summer while judging 4-H projects for a nearby county fair. All through the building youngsters were carrying boxes full of projects for us to judge, and from the look on many of their young, eager faces you could almost identify those who had crammed to complete those projects into the wee hours of the night before.

My random thought? Are there artists on the Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl like those 4-Her’s cramming the night before the Meander? Highly doubtful, although there are certainly some last minute coursing as you prepare your studios and work in anticipation of the hordes of folks about to come through. That said, most of us work with our art throughout the year. Not only are we creating new and different works, and hopefully growing individually as artists, but we’re also involved with our work in other instances and venues.

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Potter Richard Handeen works the wheel at Moonstone Farms near Montevideo.

For example, many of us have individual showings around the area. Speaking of myself, my work was involved in three one-person exhibits in two states, two juried shows (including the Horizontal Grandeur) plus showings at two arts festivals. Many Meander artists do this and more … all while creating new works. So I’m not alone.

Since the last Meander I can think of at least three artists who have exhibited at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s (SMAC) gallery in Marshall … Liz Rackl and Edie Barrett, both of Ortonville, and Malena Handeen, of Milan. Handeen also created a mural for a craft beer brewery in Montevideo and was a principal artist creating a four-sided mural on a barn on commission for an organic dairy cooperative in Wisconsin.

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Malena Handeen discusses one of her paintings at her opening at the SMAC Gallery in Marshall earlier this year.

Odessa photographer Rob Rakow and I were both in the Horizontal Grandeur, an annual prairie arts juried show sponsored by the Stevens County Historical Society that is based on an essay by the late prairie writer, Bill Holm.

Silversmith Jean Menden and bent wood artists, Dale and Jo Pederson, of Granite Falls, are mainstays at the Brookings Art Festival in July. Pity those who would attempt to keep up with all the pop-up festivals Granite’s Bradley Hall displays at each year.


Classes like this one taught by Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell are part of many artists’ year.

Then there is Meander artist Deb Connolly, of Danvers, who provides a brief overview of her work as an artist: “Red River Watercolor Society’s National Watermedia Exhibition is one of the shows I do and it is based out of Moorhead, MN.  I have earned “Signature Status” at that exhibition which means I can put the letters RRWS on my watercolor paintings near my own signature.  All of that means that I am a paid member of the Red River Water Society and I have been accepted into the national exhibition three times over a 10 year period. ‘Arts in Harmony’ is an Annual International Show that I enter most years.  It is a multi-media show based out of Elk River. Almost every year I enter the Minnesota State Fair Fine art show, and I had a piece selected by the jury process. The piece that was chosen ‘Lilacs and Oranges’ had been previously accepted into the ‘RRWS National Watermedia’ exhibition and the ‘Arts in Harmony’ show. Besides shows I enter, I hang my art in local galleries. I display my art each year at the Art of the Lakes Gallery in Battle Lake. It is a cooperative gallery where I volunteer my time to hang the gallery and work four shifts per year. I also do the three-day Art of the Lakes Studio Tour each July that they organize – which means I haul my art to a host studio closer to the cluster of artists who display. This small town gallery draws good numbers of lake country locals and visitors and I find it invigorating to display my work along with many great artists and get a chance to work meet and work with them.  I also display at Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance (PRCA) in Morris and other galleries that have come and gone over the years.”

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Deb Connolly works on a painting in her Danvers’ studio.

This summer Ortonville’s Kathleen Marihart opened her own “The Smallest Art Gallery” on the town’s main street where she and other artists offer a number of classes. Granite Falls’ photographer/artist Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell teaches many classes in the alcohol ink on tile technique, along with other member artists of the Granite Area Arts Council.

Gene and Lucy Tokheim hosts open houses and maintain their rural Dawson area studio throughout the year, creating Norwegian-inspired pottery and paintings. Gene is among the artists who teaches various courses at the Milan Village Arts School.

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A summer afternoon of work awaiting the kiln.

This is just a sprinkling of activities involving the 39 artists on this year’s Meander. Yes, we are working artists who are intent on creating new and interesting work be it pottery, paintings, jewelry, photographic images or interesting wood arts. For those touring the Meander, rest assured that very little of what you see was produced by cramming through the night before. For us it just doesn’t work that way! For us, our work isn’t a “project” … art is our way of life. Art is what we do.

New Meander Poster for Collectors

(Second of three Meander Blogs … )

This year John George Larson took his turn as the featured artist on the annual Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl poster. Chalk one up as another in a growing line for the collector’s of these interesting if not unique posters.

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m one of the collectors. Mine are framed and line the stairwell of my rural Ortonville home.


Some of my Meander poster collection.

Not only is the art on each of the posters personalized, but each of the artists must go through a process before a poster is finalized by the printer, Andy Kahmann.

Apparently past artists are the ones who decide who will be upcoming featured artist, and that artist then works closely with Kahmann to create a design that will work well with the plate engraving process as well as lending itself well to the annual Meander brochure. A third of the poster image typically appears on the brochure cover. That poster design is a well guarded secret between Kahmann and the artist until an all-artist meeting held in the late spring when the revealing is often met with a chorus of cheers and applause of approval.

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John George Larson listens as Andy Kahmann explains the printing process as Franz Richter listens.

As one of the participating artists in the Meander, I was quite curious back in May when it was announced that Larson was the featured artist since he is quite well known as a potter. Being a potter, and he is an excellent clay artist, those of us who knew of him only as a potter quickly learned that Larson has talents that exceed well beyond the wheel. In this case he “shared the wealth” with the other artists from the 2016 event, creating his piece from the chosen images of those on that version of the Meander. Imagine my surprise to see my Prairie Clothesline image as part of his poster, which might be as close as I come to being the featured artist!

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Doug Pederson designed the 2016 poster.

So I’m now in the process of piecing together a frame for Larson’s poster, which will be added to the collection on the stairwell wall. Which makes me wonder just how many others are poster collectors are out there? How many have the entire collection? Interestingly, some posters are quite rare, including the 2008 poster by Franz Albert Richter. Richter did a wonderful trio of bison, and Kahmann claims he has two of Richter’s posters hidden away, and that as far as he knows, those are the last of the bunch. “That one was quite popular,” said Kahmann.


John George Larson’s artwork graces the 2017 Meander poster.

For those who wonder, Bradley Hall was the initial featured artist the first year of the Meander in 2004, followed by Malena Handeen. Katia Andreeva was next in 2006. Milan’s internationally known rosemahler, Karen Jenson, followed Katia. The list continues as the “who’s who” of noted prairie artists: Deb Connolly, Lucy Tokheim, Kerry Kolke-Bonk, Audrey Arner, Don Sherman, Kristi Link Fernholz, Tamara Isfeld, Doug Pederson and finally, Larson.

Personally I have nine of the 14 posters framed and hanging. It would be cool to have all 14, although it’s doubtful that will happen. Especially if Richter’s bison are extremely rare.

Only a Number …

Well, my goodness. I’ve been flipped! And, I’m not alone.

After a few years of being “Number One” in the annual Meander Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl, I’m now “Number Thirty-nine!” Good news, though … I’m still the same old “me.” “It was time for flip the tour,” said Kristi Link Fernholz, who oversees Meander “business” for the Upper Minnesota Regional Development Commission. “It’s all in fairness.”

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There … the proof is in the pudding! 


Here’s the hard part: This was the first time ever that I can recall being Number One! Although this had nothing to do with talent, age nor artistic offerings. The designation was based solely on my Listening Stones Farm on-farm gallery being at the very top of the Meander tour. And, now the “bottom,” if you will. This September 29-30 and October 1, my studio/gallery is listed at the very bottom of the brochure. Old friend and carver supreme, Curt Soine, and his darling and hilarious wife, Paula, heads the numerical listing this year down at the other end of the Meander in Granite Falls.

And there is the real flip. Ortonville/Clinton to Appleton area has been listed at the top of the annual brochure for the past few years while Granite Falls and Montevideo, at the other end of the upper Minnesota River valley, was listed at the bottom.

It’s all fun and fair, yet there is a certain fear. Will meanderers see us up here as being “too far out?”

Interestingly, the Meander is often seen in three parts: The upper, the middle and the lower. Those many artists between Danvers and Dawson are seen by many as being the middle. Or, as one mid-tour artist told me recently while giving me a tease, “We’re always stuck in the middle. That doesn’t make us mediocre.”


Curt Soine’s beautifully carved swan. 

That “middle” has some incredible artists. People such as Gene and Lucy Tokheim, Jean Menden, Woody Peet, Tom and Delite Ludvigson, with Martha Alvarado, J Berndt and K. Lohse at the vineyard, all near Dawson. Milan is also a who’s who with Malena Handeen, Kristi Link Fernholz, Katia Andreeva, Diane Trew, Patrice Geyen, Pamela Gubrud and John George Larson. Deb Connelly shores up the eastern end in Danvers.

The “south” ­— or the top of the 2017 brochure — starts in Granite Falls and includes the Soines, Melanie Gabbert-Gatchell, Gene Stukel, Bradley Hall, Claire Swanson, Dale and Jo Pederson, and returning artist, Dale Streblow. Monte has A to Z Letterpress, Flying Goose Quilters, Doug and Brock Pederson, and Moonstone Farm with Richard Handeen and Audrey Arner. That, too, is a load of talent exhibiting some beautiful and creative art.


An artist’s display at the Red Barn from the past.

Not to be outdone, my place and the Red Barn are just a bend in a country intersection apart, or a distance of only three miles. Seven artists will hole up in Stattelman’s iconic red barn — Liz Rackl, Kris Ninneman, Anne Dietz, Pam Stueve, Beverly Schultz, Carol Knutson and Neva Foster. Edie Barrett and Kathleen Marihart will be almost next door in downtown Ortonville. Odessa, just down the highway, will feature hosts Valerie Berg and Rob Rakow. Appleton, considered the “window” of the upper Meander, lists three more artists — Kerry Kolke-Bonk, Deborah Moorse and Nancy Bergmann. In all, 13 artists! Meander brochures contain a map of the various studios and artist locations, along with highway routes meandering through the prairie.


My studio/gallery at Listening Stones Farm isn’t quite ready for the Meander, even at Number 39!

Regardless of our numerical listing, those who meander through the annual Western Minnesota arts crawl will have an excellent selection of medium to view and hopefully purchase. Just don’t forget that far out, old Number Thirty-nine! Ol’ 39 is just pleased to be among those juried as being worthy of being included as a Meander artist! Being Number One doesn’t mean I’m Number One no more than being Number Thirty-nine means I’m Number Thirty-nine.

Or as someone my age often hears, “It’s only a number.”