Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chester Chat On Art Was Both Fun and Informative

Last Thursday I attended my first Chester Chat at Glensheen Mansion, the 7.6 acre estate built by Chester A. Congdon just over one hundred years ago on the shore of Lake Superior and donated to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1968. I heard mention of it on KUMD radio and was intrigued to learn that something like the internationally recognized TED Talks was taking place here in a UMD-sponsored event.

The idea behind TED Talks is "Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." The Chester Chats program has been patterned after this format of bringing some of our locally remarkable people to briefly share insights on various themes. And last week's theme was about art.

Despite excessively cold temps, the three speakers filled the room with a public eager to hear lively presentations about regional art. Dan Hartman, interim director of Glensheen, served as moderator. Our featured speakers were Sarah Brokke-Erickson, MFA who teaches at St. Scholastica, Anne Dugan, curator and interim director of the Duluth Art Institute, and Dr. Jennifer Webb, who teaches art history at UMD.

What follows are a few brief notes from what each brought to share.

Sarah Brokke-Erickson
Sarah Brokke's talk was titled "An Artist's Perspective" and her opening line set the tone. "You can hardly throw a rock here (in Duluth0 without hitting an artist."

Brokke, who hails from Grand Forks and came here to attend college at UMD, has had the privilege of studying abroad in places such as England, France, and Florence, Italy. She considers herself a post-post-modernist.

She asked, "What makes someone an artist?" And she began with the earliest form of art that is with us today. "What compelled people to make cave paintings?" It is clearly a human thing to create, she noted. Art is a human expression. Therefore everyone has potential to be an artist.

She stated that to define what is art puts limits on what is possible. She closed by encouraging us to take time each day to perceive and reflect on the world around us.

Anne Dugan's talk about regional art began with her sharing a pet peeve of hers. Duluth has a thriving art scene, but too often she hears people dismiss it by unfavorably comparing ourselves to other places, The reality is, we're not New York. We're not Austin. We're Duluth!

Recent painting by Scott Murphy
After initially introducing us to two Russian artists Dugan gave short presentations on three local artists who exemplify qualities of our region. First of these is Scott Murphy, whose mural at the library is a wonderful example of public art. His recent show at the DAI is rooted in a Northern Minnesota blue collar tradition. Next, she gave us Katharine Meier, who moved to Duluth from a small town in Nebraska. Her work goes beyond depiction and returns to open spaces. The influence of Native culture permeates our local art scene as well, and Dugan highlighted this by sharing Annette Lee and Ojibwe X-Ray paintings of William Wilson. The slides fail to do justice to these works which need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Dr. Jennifer Webb talked about Glensheen's connection to art. Chester Congdon created an arts board when he was young that eventually became the Duluth Art Institute. He was a founder of the Society of Encouragement of Art in Duluth, an unwieldy name but noble in purpose. The group bought a major painting for the new Carnegie Library downtown and put together a show in 1898 featuring the art of our region and artist David Ericson.

Their aim was to create a legacy around the twin themes "All of us are artists; all of us are collectors." Their aim of supporting artist and making a community impact is with us to this day. 


Naomi said...

Hi Ed,
We were surprised to see your story, as Teri, my reporter, attended this event also.
Seems like you both enjoyed the Chat...and have convinced me that is something I'd like to attend.

Look for our story in Saturdays' Budgeteer.
(P.S. I have an extremely difficult time reading those letters to prove I'm not a robot.)

ENNYMAN said...

I'll look for it in the morning. But my presence shouldn't have been a surprise. Thanks for the heads up on your own coverage.

David Beard said...

I thnk you mean Catherine Meier: