Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alison Aune and 4 from the North

You’d have to live under a broken sewer main to not notice that our North Country is rich with ethnic variety. Post-Civil War there was an abundance of open land being offered here to anyone willing to work it into shape. This news traveled across the seas to the furthest corners of Europe attracting waves of Norwegian, Swede and Finnish families who were accustomed to our special brand of harsh winters. Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Icelanders, Germans, Danes and Russians came as well as Scots and Irish who desired our freedoms and their fair portion of the American dream.

Many of the heirs of these emigrants have remained connected to their homelands, cherishing their heritage and the places they hailed from. Unlike east coast settlers whose kin arrived ten generations ago, these Northland roots were planted within a lifetime or two from the original pioneering settlers. As a result, it is not uncommon for Scandinavians here to find and visit their relatives “back home.”

I mention all this only because of this week's 4 from the North art show in Norway Hall and the Nordic Gala upstairs in Norway Hall at Downtown Duluth's Sons of Norway Building. The aim of Saturday evening's Nordic Gala was the opposite of what you might think. Rather that simply being an opportunity for Norwegians to celebrate together, this Gala had as its aim the connecting of all our cultures in an attempt to transcend ethnic barriers.

We're all familiar with the image of America as a melting pot. When I think melting pot I think stew. The flavor may be tasty but all the ingredients lose their identity in the crock pot. A better metaphor, not original with me, might be the tossed salad where every ingredient retains its character while contributing to the whole.

The 4 from the North art exhibit was located just up the sidewalk from the new Prøve Gallery  likewise housed in the Sons of Norway Building. 4 from the North featured four women artists whose names also happened to begin with the letter A: Ann Klefstad, Arna Rennan, Alison Aune and Ann Jenkins. Their paintings and sculpture work draw from their love of nature as well as their mutual appreciation for their heritage.

I spoke with Alison Aune Friday evening to learn more about her paintings as well as gain insights about the other artists represented there. Aune noted that in researching the patterns that we associate with Scandinavian sweaters and designs, she discovered that the symbols have meanings beyond simply being decorative. Furthermore, she said, "Repetition imbues symbols with strength and power. Patterns had power."

She noted the eight-pointed stars and other motifs that she's incorporated into her work. Some even had divine power. Her research took her back to Sweden where she took great pains to decode the designs that many of us take for granted. The most common sweater pattern that we're familiar with is a symbol of resistance, she said.

Another painter in this group was Arna Rennan who, since 1990, has always preferred to paint on location. Her Norweigian fjord paintings were not derived from the photos of friends and family. She's determined to take it all in first hand, and transmit from there.

Ann Jenkins's work is familiar to anyone who has been a regular visitor to Lizzard's Gallery down on Superior Street. Her evocative paintings reveal her responsive impressions of light and color.

Ann Klefstad's Forest Deer contributed to the space nicely and might help make other forest visitors feel at home in this interior environment. Klefstad's participation comes on the heels of a major show in the Twin Cities that featured a wide range of her skills and imagination, and took up a lot of her time this summer.

Alison Aune's paintings have been displayed in Sweden, re-interpreting traditional patterns and symbols in a contemporary setting. Her work as also featured in 2007 at the Duluth Art Institute.

I'm confident that if you were unable to see 4 from the North, you'll have plenty more opportunities to see the work of these four women in future venues.

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