Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cruisin’ the Bemidji art scene October 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:35 AM

WHEN YOU THINK of Bemidji, what pops into your mind? Likely Paul Bunyan and the Mississippi River.

But the area also thrives with the arts, which will be showcased Oct. 16 – 18 during the second annual Bemidji First City of Arts Studio Cruise. The event takes visitors into the working studios of 16 artists who specialize in painting, jewelry, pottery, glass, wood, fabric and sculpture.

Artist Christina Thorne makes one-of-a-kind jewelry using stone and other natural elements.

Artist Christina Thorne makes one-of-a-kind jewelry using stone and other natural elements.

Paula Swenson creates colorful contemporary art, like "Be Here Now," with acrylic and mixed media.

Paula Swenson creates colorful contemporary art, like "Be Here Now," with acrylic and mixed media.

Wanting to learn more, I interviewed woodworker Dave Towley, who heads the Cruise steering committee and is an enthusiastic promoter of the Bemidji arts scene. I was seeking event information and insights into the Bemidji area as a mecca for artists.

According to Towley, as he views it, his hometown of Bemidji attracts artists for numerous reasons. He speaks of the region’s beauty in the lakes, trees, eagles and loons. It is a place, he says, that allows for “a contemplative pace of life.” Distraction and competing noise are few.

“There’s a certain harmony that allows you to create work,” he says. “This area nurtures creativity.”

I can understand that. My formative years spent on the southwestern Minnesota prairie shaped who I became as a writer. The wide open spaces and endless skies there created within me a deep awareness of my environment. And that has made me a more insightful writer. I expect Towley and other Bemidji artists feel the same about the quiet northwoods.

These artists, however, want to keep anything but quiet about their existence. They welcome Cruise visitors into their studios to observe and interact. They also hope to create economic opportunities for the Bemidji region and for area artists.

And, Towley adds, “It’s about bringing people to Bemidji and raising awareness of Bemidji residents to the tremendous art scene.”

Towley’s right on that. While vacationing in Bemidji in August, I learned first hand of the community’s dynamic arts focus, most visible in the downtown Bemidji Sculpture Walk.

That walk and other venues will also be highlighted during the Cruise. The event kicks off with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at the Bemidji Community Art Center, 426 Bemidji Avenue. Artists will greet the public and show examples of their works. Information will be posted daily at the art center about evening arts-related activities.

Artists’ studios will be open during the Cruise from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Oct. 16 and 17 and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Oct. 18. For more information, go to www.visitbemidji.com

Visual artist Terry Honstead uses texture and a variety of materials including oil, acrylic and watercolor in addition to mixed media.

Visual artist Terry Honstead uses texture and a variety of materials including oil, acrylic and watercolor in addition to mixed media. This piece is "Harmony."

Dean Schnell transforms glass into jewelry and functional works of art.

Dean Schnell transforms glass into jewelry and functional works of art.

Paul Bunyan and Babe and the Mississippi River grace the logo for Bemidji First City of Arts Studio Cruise.

Paul Bunyan and Babe and the Mississippi River grace the logo for Bemidji First City of Arts Studio Cruise.