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Meander artist's inspiration is homegrown in west central Minnesota

Kerry Kolke-Bonk creates her works in the house she and her husband, Paul, have called home east of Appleton for 24 years. The home's décor is representative of what family and friends call "The Kerry Touch.'' When not creating on canvas, she turns her creative energy to home decorating and remodeling. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

APPLETON -- All artists are born with their own creative talent.

Some learn how to express it through formal study at schools with well-known artists.

Kerry Kolke-Bonk was arguably more fortunate.

"I grew up with it; all the time it was around me,'' said Kolke-Bonk. She is the featured artists for the 2011 Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl known as the Meander.

No different than a carpenter's son or daughter growing up with the tools of the trade always at hand, the materials and opportunities for creating art were always a part of the Kolke household.

Her father, Erling, was a superintendent of schools. He served the Atwater schools before becoming the superintendent for the Appleton schools in 1972 when she started second grade.

It was her mother, DeVaughn, who had the artistic talent. Kolke-Bonk said her mother was "adamant'' about the arts and introducing them to peoples' lives.

Her mother offered the encouragement and guidance that undoubtedly played a major role in her own pursuit of art.

That is, if encouragement was ever needed. Kolke-Bonk said she has always needed a creative outlet. When she is not at work on canvas she turns her attention to home decorating and other projects.

"The Kerry Touch'' is how her family and friends describe her talent.

Kolke-Bonk did not undertake formal art studies after high school. She studied photography at what is now Ridgewater College in Willmar. She was interested in photography with an eye toward a career in commercial art.

Marriage to Paul Bonk, an Appleton area farmer, and raising three children led to a change in course. When her children reached school age, she took on a job with the U.S. Postal Service, which she continues to this day.

She also began to study art at workshops. Always, she set aside time to create art. She created her first work as a high school student. One of her former instructors holds the distinction of being the first to purchase her works.

She works mainly with watercolor. "Water color is a hard medium, but yet it's more satisfying ... if you can conquer it,'' she said. "You can't just paint over it like oil and acrylic if you make a mistake. You have to plan.''

She works from photographs she takes of landscapes, objects or buildings. Some of her most popular works are renditions of buildings now vanishing from the rural landscape. An autumn scene showing the Appleton Mill and mill pond on the Pomme de Terre River in Appleton captures its serenity. The apple-red colored doors to the former Appleton High School hints at the bustle and life once found inside.

The image she created to represent this year's Meander -- a farm place windmill standing amidst white coneflowers with modern wind turbines on the horizon -- is based on a real place she photographed.

"I'm a realist,'' she said of her approach to art. She stays true to the original scene or photograph as much as possible.

Yet there are changes in the wind, too. She finds herself working more on abstracts than formerly.

And, she is refining her approach, acting on the advice given her by her mother, who died this last summer.

Kolke-Bonk said she has always had a tendency to be detailed in her works. For example, if she painted a leaf, she was sure to add the veins and shadows in exacting detail.

Today, she is more disciplined and willing to pull back and provide more room for the viewer's imagination.

"My mom said they are going to like it because they are never going to imagine something they don't like. You have to leave something for them to finish,'' she said.

Her mother enjoyed a life-long journey in art. Kolke-Bonk's goals are no different. "I never thought of where art would lead me,'' she said, "but there was always art for me.''

The opportunity to meet the artist and view her work during the Meander are found at her home and art studio located about five miles east of Appleton. Follow Swift County Road 6 from Appleton to 170th Avenue Southwest. Her works are also available at Billy Maple Tree's gift shop in Milan.

Tom Cherveny

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

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