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West Central Minnesota Meander artist’s passion is also her talent

Tamara Isfeld’s understanding of color is among the defining characteristics of her works. (Tribune photo illustration)

Art and life are one in the same for Tamara Isfeld, but here’s the rub.

“I will never live long enough to do all the different types of art I want to do,’’ said Isfeld.

That she has the talent to do all that she tries so well is just one of the reasons that Brad Hall, a fellow artist in Granite Falls, successfully nominated Isfeld to be featured artist for the 2015 Upper Minnesota River Valley Arts Crawl or Meander.

She’s done water color paintings “that would knock your socks off,’’ said Hall, adding that she matches their impact whether working in oils, or venturing into ceramics, sculpturing, or whatever art medium she explores.

“She knows who she is,’’ said Hall of an artist known throughout the region for her passion and talents.

Her love for art came early, said Isfeld. She realized what she wanted to do while a student in elementary school.

Her commitment came later, when she slammed her fingers in the trunk of her car on a bone-cold night at the end of her shift at a hardware store.

She was stuck, the temperature was sub-zero, and there was no one around to hear a cry for help. The first thought that came to her mind was not whether she might suffer frostbite or even freeze to death. “I won’t be able to do art work,’’ said Isfeld of the thought that sent fear through her body.

It was followed by this: “If you’re really thinking that, why are you working at a hardware store?”

She has devoted herself to art ever since, creating commissioned works, portraits, and murals for patrons and public places.

Isfeld grew up near Clarkfield, and has often featured rural themes and landscapes in her work. She reveals the magic so many of us can otherwise overlook in rural places.

And just as effectively, her portraits of rural people are revealing of the relationships among her subjects.

The beginning

Isfeld graduated from high school in 1980, completed graphic arts studies in Alexandria, and moved back to the Granite Falls area to raise a family. She said husband is her best critic, and accepting of her passion for art. “Obsession you might call it,’’ she said.

She grew up knowing what she wanted to do, but learning how to do it was another matter. Isfeld said she was often frustrated at first. “I couldn’t paint for anything,’’ she said. “Very frustrating.’’

It all changed when her mother enrolled her in a tole painting class. A high school student at the time, Isfeld said she felt uneasy studying a folk art surrounded by so many people who seemed “old” to her.

But the class provided the moment of elucidation she had sought. It showed her the relationship of colors and how to blend them to create art. “That was like unlocking a door,’’ she said. “It totally opened that door for me. From that point on I started painting where I could feel confident in paint.’’

She had yet one other, very important lesson to learn.

Having attended a rural school system, she 

always knew: “I was never going to be a teacher. I saw what a rural art teacher goes through,’’ said Isfeld.

And then one day the Yellow Medicine East School called. An art instructor was taking a leave. Would she take over for a while under a law that allows community experts to serve as instructors?

Helping young people walk through the door that can change their lives proved rewarding beyond anything she could have imagined. She returned to school, earned a degree in education, and is now in her 12th year as the grades 6-12 art instructor for the Renville County West schools.

“The kids truly know she cares about them,’’ said Rich Schrupp, RCW High School principal. She often leads extra curricular arts programs for students, and does a great job of connecting with students, said Schrupp.

He also appreciates her ability to engage students of all abilities.

Exploring it all, with a commom theme

While she was in art school, Isfeld said a professor had urged her to “settle down” and “find one thing.’’ “You will always know that is your work,’’ she said he told her.

“I looked at him and said ‘that will never happen.’ I think that has made me a better teacher.’’

She loves to explore all of the art forms, and helping students do the same is the best of all ways to do so, she explained. Lately she has worked in ceramics and come to enjoy the power of texture, while also learning the science and techniques it requires.

Yet if her art work continues to change, her main themes remain the same. She loves rural life and people, the rural landscape, and the opportunity to explore her relationship with God and the spiritual through her work.

She’s had her challenges. An unexplained infection in the thumb of her right (and dominant) hand at one point required hospitalization and surgery, and threatened the muscle dexterity she needed for painting. She voiced her frustration to her surgeon, and felt angered when he told her, pointing to his head: “Remember the art you create is not in your hands, it is all up here.’’

She repeated the story at home to her daughter, who told her the surgeon was right. She taught her left hand to take over for the right and fortunately, her right thumb has since recovered.

Her challenge today is the one familiar to all rural artists: Finding the right balance in life for art, family, friends and work.

Hall is among those who does not know how she manages it all. “I don’t know how she finds the time,’’ he said, while listing all that she does to promote the arts. “And to top it off, she’s just a really sweet and nice person.’’

Discover what lies ‘Around the Bend’ during the 12th annual Meander this weekend

APPLETON — The 12th annual Upper Minnesota River Meander Arts Crawl will be this Friday through Sunday.

The Meander is a free self-guided tour of artist studios featuring 40 local artists from five counties in western Minnesota. The annual event features the art studios, small towns and family farms found in the Upper Minnesota River region.

Special events include a Meander Friday Night Celebration from 6 to 9 p.m. in downtown Granite Falls, featuring a re-dedication of the community’s historic footbridge.

Saturday evening there will be a concert by jazz vocalist Connie Evingson at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium in Dawson.

A free brochure detailing the locations of Meander art studios and events can be downloaded at www.artsmeander.com.

More information can also be found on the Meander Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MeanderArtCrawl.

Meander hours: 

Friday: noon to 6 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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