Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A Visit with Penny Perry: Long Time Arts Advocate and Duluth Art Scene Asset

The quantity of framing galleries in the Twin Ports region is a pretty good indicator that we have a thriving visual arts community here. Yelp lists 16, from the North Shore to Carlton and Superior to Miller Hill Mall. Perry Framing is located right downtown in what has now been designated Duluth's Historic Arts & Theater (HART) District, a couple doors down from the Zeitgeist Cafe.

Proprietor Penny Perry, an artist herself, has served the arts community in a number of capacities. In addition to framing and hanging shows for the Zeitgeist, she's helped our Duluth Dylan Fest hang shows in the Atrium there. She's also served on the Duluth Public Arts Commission (DPAC) and worked with a wide cross-section of artists to give their work its proper presentation.

This past year she's been creating illustrations for Phil Fitzpatrick's book of poems, Hawks on High: Everyday Miracles in a Hawk Ridge Season. With the official book launch next Monday (Details below) it seemed a good time to share a bit of Penny Perry's story.

EN: How long did you serve on DPAC?

Penny Perry: I served during part of the terms of three administrations, Doty, Bergson and Ness.

EN: What are some of the responsibilities of DPAC that people are unaware of?

PP: The mission priorities change with administrations, but it is a voluntary commission tasked with promoting local arts, cataloging and prioritizing the maintenance and preservation of public cultural properties, serving as an advisory board when local 1% for Public Art is applied, and in general, being a resource for the public to communicate arts issues and advocacy.

EN: You've been framing and part of the art community for more than four decades. How would you describe the evolution of our arts community during this period of time?

PP: Subjectively, I think artists used to be more like islands, either individually, by discipline, or even according to related studio spaces. We are fortunate in this community to have strong, involved, practicing artists across many disciplines.

There is a history of collaboration among poets, musicians, dancers, actors and visual artists in Duluth. Some leaders of these collaborative efforts that have inspired me personally are Ellie Schoenfeld, Sara Thomsen, Ann Klefstad, Chris Monroe, Julie Ahasay and Lisa McKhann, to name a few. If you asked ten others to name ten other influential working artists, they could do it in a minute and they would be equally diverse across disciplines. That is the art community I now know and appreciate. You might guess modern communication and social media plays a big part, but still, people have to show up, and they do.

EN: Birds seem to be a recurring theme in your work. How did that begin and what is it that makes birds so endlessly fascinating?

PP: My first truly personal artwork was a colored pencil drawing that included a blackbird and was inspired by Truman Capote's Grass Harp & A tree of Night.

I grew up on a farm and have ridden wooded trails on horseback all my life. My whole family feeds, observes and loves birds. Yet, it is the metaphysical aspects and questions about birds that continue to impose themselves into my work. They are, at once, vulnerable and strong and the magically reliable harbingers of the seasons.

EN: How did you come to be involved with Phil's project?

PP: A little bird named Ellie Schoenfeld suggested it to Phil. I had a show at the Duluth Art Institute at the time, Phil checked it out, and asked me if I would be interested in his project. I thought, “poetry, birds and ink drawings” and couldn't say yes fast enough. We found our collaborative footing quite easily.

EN: What was the most rewarding aspect of this project for you?

PP: I might not even know that yet, but the rewards of bringing this project to fruition were many. It was a great opportunity to be asked to add a layer of imagery to Phil's poems, but, I challenged myself to try and be biologically accurate enough to please birders without losing the underlying wonder of the subjects of the poems. Over the last year and a half I spent a lot of time observing, photographing, researching and finally drawing with the kind of focus that is rare. For an artist, there's nothing better.

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BOOK LAUNCH DETAILS
The book launch will be at the Zeitgeist Atrium on Monday, September 9 from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Ryan Frane will be playing during the reception and art show (5-6), and Woodblind will play from 7-9 after the poetry reading.

Books can be purchased at Hawk Ridge, at Zenith Bookstore, as well as directly from the author and the artist.

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