Pat Black’s meticulously assembled and sometimes troubling quilts are more than decorative throws for the bed. At age 13 she knew that she wanted to work with fabric in some way and pestered her mother for a sewing machine. Her interest soon focused on quilting. Her engaging issue-based narratives are assembled from an extensive array of fabric collected over many years. Some of her quilts made to mark significant family events like marriages and births. Prized by friends and family members, her quilts became important markers of their movement through life. One large and still evolving piece depicts family adventures on her father’s beloved boat.
But there are also others of the darker side where the boat founders on the shoals of chemical dependency, a problem that ran through her family and affected Pat as well. Fortunately, the rewards of quilt-making gave her the strength and conviction to overcome her struggle with dependency.
At once disturbing and beautiful, her quilts cover a variety of issues of personal concern, particularly alcohol abuse in her community. The problem is endemic in the Native American communities around Bemidji where she had organized outreach art programs that have helped many friends in the community make their “escape from hell” through art.
Lillian, for 60 years the best known beauty salon operator Owatonna, saw the very first crop art competition and show at the Minnesota State Fair in 1965. Intrigued she studied the style and took second-place with her entry the next year. First-place followed and began an unbroken string of many first-place, best of show and sweepstakes awards. Finally, after 25 years of topping the competition, the fair officials asked her not to compete anymore, to allow other people a chance. In lieu they would give her own show and workshop.
At age 95, Lillian, working daily, constructs pictures from over 100 different seed varieties she stores in her well-organized, mouse proof seed pantry. Working from photographs, each seed is placed and adjusted individually before it is held in place by Elmer’s glue.
The resulting portraits are compelling likenesses of Hollywood stars, country and rock and roll musicians, American presidents, and religious and science leaders. Each resonates with nuance and expression.
Apparently, there’s a crop art gene in the family as her daughter Lynda also does crop art and has won five times at the fair. The great-grand kids are doing well too!
Art work: Buster Keaton, 1992
crop seeds and mixed media
Danny Gayder – Painter – Floodwood, MN
Danny apologizes for his slurred speech on the phone, saying that it’s due a degenerative brain stem and lower spinal cord disease. “People think I’m drunk if I don’t mention it” he explains. His art is his antidote. The work began years ago as doodles that made him feel good, and soon evolved into emotionally potent works. He instills strength into his paintings with bold confident brush strokes of vibrant complementary and contrasting colors. His works are nspired by personal issues, often reflecting the eternal struggle between good and evil. Danny says that he participates in this struggle standing side by side with Jesus as he fights evil from within. “Jesus is the Man and I’m the mean,” he intones, “the lion’s den is my charge, not sheep like Jesus.”
About painting and making art he says, “you got to feel sorry for yourself to paint, it all comes from the pain, the CBS - Cosmic Bull Shit - most artists have it.” He paused, and then continued, “I get all mixed up sometimes. I think my feelings and feel my thoughts. I don’t paint with feeling, though. I paint feelings.”
A highly sought after “outsider artist,” Danny’s work has been shown internationally at major galleries in Holland and New Zealand, and in the US in Baltimore, New Orleans, Florida and Very Special Arts in Washington, DC. Frustrated he adds that too many times when he sends work for shows it “disappears” or the dealers don’t pay him, commenting with ironic resignation “I guess they need it more than I do.”
Artwork: Vase of Flowers, 1999
Acrylic on canvas
Albert C. Belleveau – Sculptor – Puposky, MN
To escape from a life of partying and drinking in the Twin Cities, a young Albert Belleveau moved to live on his grandparent’s farm in the country north of Bemidji. There he found two things that laid the foundation for his artistic vision: a buzz box or AC welder and a pile of iron scrap. He inherited his grandfather’s “talent” to value junk and save it, not that he knows exactly what he’s going to do with it at the time he finds it. First, the stuff must go into the creative cauldron in his head where the playful dolphins (endorphins) take over.”
Whimsy permeates his work as welds together guns to make a gun rack and shovels, saw blades, pick axe heads and the like a are transformed into a tool shed. With a grimacing grin he twists red hot steel rods around rocks to neuron like cells that he welds together liuke a glia network of the brain in constructing his various works. The resulting structures, like the airy outhouse he’s pictured standing next to addresses physics’ primordial quantum dilemma: Is it particle or is it wave? His work reflects Heisenberg’s answer: not certain, depends on how you look at it.
While not formally trained Al has done well. He’s had a number on one-person shows and his work sells at handsome prices. He is frequently called upon to do residencies and workshops. He says that he particularly likes working with kindergarten kids, infusing them with artistic excitement by teaching them to weld with that same old AC buzz box that gave him his first art buzz.
Artwork: New Mex Mix 2004
Sticks and stones
Duane Penske – Wall sculptor – Vesta, MN
The director of the North Dakota Museum of Art who knew I was looking for self-taught artists told me about Duane Penske. I wondered what she was thinking when Duane told me that he had a degree in art education from Southwestern State University. I said through pursed lips that I was looking for self-taught artists and that he might not work. “Oh but I am,” he countered, “I didn’t go there to learn anything in particular, I wanted to get away from the farm and family because they just didn’t understand me wanting to make art when I should be farming. I covered my eyes during art history classes because I didn’t want to be influenced by other work or ideas.”
His mentor Ed Evans concurred saying that the University had a very innovative and effective art program at that time. No grades, minimal credits, no class guidelines, and encouragement to develop one’s own interest and style. He said that Duane had told him later that he could not have finished a degree in any other way. He has a style and vision that didn’t come out of Southwestern State but right out of the earth around Vesta. Duane is a true folk artist who is very talented at representing real life on the farms of Southwest Minnesota, but few would consider him to be a sophisticated artist. The program has since reverted to the more traditional arts education curriculum.
Duane’s work evolved from his fascination with the frames he made for his paintings. His 3-D wall pieces are actually elaborate frames that are a collage of painted people and objects .
Artwork: Along the Road to Yum Yum. 2004
Wood and acrylics