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.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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