Former students and new teachers: Two local artists bringing something different to Studio Hop
WILLMAR — What do gourds, children's books and clay have to do with one another?
The 2018 Lakes Area Art Studio Hop.
Studio Hop is an event where area artists open their studios and creative spaces to the public, featuring numerous art forms including carved gourds, illustrated children's books, pottery, handmade jewelry and oil paintings.
This year's Studio Hop marks the 14th annual celebration of local art, undeniable evidence of the community's commitment to the arts and, more specifically, to supporting local artists.
"It started with the arts council, and a bunch of them just got together and said 'We need to do this, because there are so many wonderful artists in the area'," said Janet Olney, executive director of the Willmar Area Arts Council.
"It's really by artists, for artists," she said.
So what does Studio Hop give to the broader community, those who might not already be invested in the local art scene?
"I think they can be proud of their community," Olney stated. "You realize what all goes into it. So often you just look at a piece and think, 'Oh that looks nice.' But when you actually see the process, you can appreciate the art a bit more."
An artist herself, Olney has over 30 years of experience in basketmaking and has recently transitioned to gourds.
"Several of us are doing new work, and it's always good to keep your finger on what's going on in the community," she said.
With 21 artists and a number of studios sprinkled across Kandiyohi County, Studio Hop has local artists both old and new who will be showcasing their work at this year's event. Olney wanted to note, however, that one local favorite, Sharon Schuetze, will not be participating this year due to family commitments.
Green carpet, dark wood, dim lighting — the decor in the old building attached to The Barn Theatre looks as though it has not been touched since the 1950s.
But inside one small apartment, the white walls are brazenly interrupted by the bold and loud colors in Ana Serrano's oil paintings, bringing life and the 21st century into the old building.
Serrano is a 2014 graduate of Willmar Senior High School and a recent alumna of Ridgewater College. She has always been interested in art, but at Ridgewater she was able to dedicate herself to it more fully.
"I actually took painting class three times. The first time I fell in love with the medium, and I asked my teacher if I could take it again, and she said to go ahead. But by the fourth time I was ready to be done, because it was getting expensive," Serrano explained.
Her studio, just next to the recently renovated Barn Theatre, is a wonderful mess of paintings in progress, finished paintings and art supplies scattered across the floor.
The smallest pieces are about 24-inches tall and Serrano's largest piece easily surpasses 4 feet.
It can take a week and a half, if she's pressed for time, or three months to finish a painting. It all depends on her drive and inspiration to get a piece done. Serrano is a novice in oil painting, so with each piece she is still working to master the medium.
"I like oil paints because they dry slower and they mix better, and it's an old medium," Serrano said, pointing to the globs of paint intermingling on her artist's palette.
"Colorwise I tend to stay away from black, or darker colors. I like colorful paintings, I like very vivid colors, it's just something I've been driven to. I think it takes inspiration from painters like Frida Kahlo (Mexican painter, 1907-1954). Frida Kahlo uses a lot of bright colors, a lot of vivid greens and vivid yellows, so I think I lean toward that. I don't know if there's a subconscious cultural theme there too," Serrano laughs.
In the past she was painting whatever came to mind, random thoughts flitting in and out of her head, but lately Serrano has been focusing on cultural pieces highlighting her own background.
"In a way it's kind of hard because I'm technically a Mexican American, but living in America for so long can cause you to lose some of your cultural identity," she explained.
One painting yet unfinished in her studio featured a young girl wearing the same dress Serrano's grandmother had once worn. Almost taller than the artist, the painting "China Poblana" reflects two famous artists Serrano sees in most of her work.
"I tend to use a lot of Van Goghish colors, but with Diego Rivera themes," she said, noting the use of primary colors like the famous European artist and cultural themes of the esteemed Mexican painter.
A number of her pieces hang in Azteca, her family's restaurant in downtown Willmar.
Serrano is hoping to feature at least seven large paintings at Studio Hop, including two of her latest pieces titled "Raven-Haired Girl" and "China Poblana."
Visit her and two other local artists in Studio One at this weekend's Studio Hop.
Just off the south shores of Diamond Lake is a two-story cabin, a relatively new addition amongst the 100-year-old trees just across the gravel road from the Haen's former home.
Built in the last two years, this building has been coined "Curiosity Cabin" by Mark Haen, a full-time photographer, burgeoning artist, and owner of the building.
"We used to live in the home just across the way," Haen said, "but now we've moved into the upstairs. We live up here Thursday through Sunday, and then we live in Olivia Monday through Wednesday because I work in Morton."
Curiosity Cabin is the center of Haen's artistic expression. Functioning as a painting workroom, a photography studio and a jam space, Curiosity Cabin caters to Haen's every creative need.
"I just started painting like three years ago, and we just built this last year," Haen said, gesturing around the multi-purpose studio. And although his painting career has just begun, the arts are not a new area of interest for Haen.
"I ran a recording studio for nine years," Haen said. He mentioned playing with bands like The Monkees and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as he tapped out a few tunes on the piano, noting that he had been involved in music since his 20s.
"I play the piano, the guitar, the drums, and I'm all self-taught. The vocals, that's not for me. You wouldn't want to hear me trying to get out a few notes," he chuckled.
Moving from his music to his paintings, Haen's latest artistic escapade, was an easy transition. Haen seems to move from one medium to the next, using whatever artistic form inspires him at the moment.
"This painting here is one of my first, it's sort of a Bob Ross style (American painter, art instructor and television host, 1942-1995). I'd love to get rid of it, because I don't think it's that great, but there's something about your first paintings," he said, pointing at a tranquil mountain scene.
The walls of his studio are filled with his paintings, ranging from reimagined versions of sketches he's seen elsewhere to lamplit parks inspired by the drapes in his daughter's office.
Motioning toward one wall filled with canvases depicting different scenes from outer space, Haen said, "All of these paintings are based on actual photos taken by the Hubble spacecraft, and they're very hard to paint. But it's so cool and I loved trying to figure out how to paint them."
Despite the amount of art on his walls, Haen maintains that his primary passion is teaching painting.
"That's my whole thing — to teach. That's the whole reason I'm doing this thing, to bring people on out and to get them interested in learning more about art and themselves."
"I'm 63 years old for God's sake, I shouldn't be working all hours of the day. But I like what I'm doing," he said.
Haen is hosting free art and music seminars on June 30, and he hopes that Curiosity Cabin will have more than a few visitors for the event.
"There's this thing about painting: you don't know how good you are until you start."