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A passion for art links students and their mentors

Marisabel Bautista, left, an art student at Ridgewater College in Willmar, and Bob Mattson, her art mentor, go over Bautista's work at Mattson's workshop in New London. Mattson assisted Bautista with planning her art show, part of a display at the college. (Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer)

Working one-on-one with an experienced artist hasn't led Marisabel Bautista to make any life changing decisions on what her career path should be, but it has set the stage.

"I have discovered where my passion is, where my heart is,'' said Bautista, who is completing her second year of studies at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Bautista is one of four students at the local campus who are displaying where their passion for art has taken them.

The art works of the four students are on display at the college, and will remain for public viewing through Jan. 29. A reception is being planned for the artists and their mentors from 3 to 4 p.m. today.

They are participants in a program modeled after the Women's Art Registry of Minnesota's mentor/protégé program. It provides art students an opportunity to work one-on-one with an accomplished artist on projects of their choosing.

Ridgewater College arts instructor Marjorie Nilssen had started her own exploration of art as a protégé of artist Susan McDonald, thanks to the Women's Art Registry of Minnesota. She was able to obtain support from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Commission to offer a version of the program to the Ridgewater students this year.

Four students and four artists in the region were matched and devoted time through the course of the last semester to the students' and their interests.

Bautista said she wasn't necessarily looking for insights into career choices when Nilssen paired her with her spouse, New London artist Bob Mattson. She was eager to learn more about art, and said she had more questions than there is time for in a classroom setting.

She has always enjoyed expressing herself through language and writing, but said she the experience of working alongside Mattson has showed her just how much she appreciates the visual. It's changed her outlook and only bolstered her appreciation and interest for art.

She's combing the best of written and visual communication for her exhibit, a series of prints that are inspired by the music and lyrics of "Picture of Success'' by Rilo Kiley.

Mattson feels he has gained as much from his student as he may have offered her. He said her commitment and interest in art served to re-ignite his own.

Identical results were achieved more than 50 miles away in Hancock, where artist Phylis Joos hosted student Paula Pena of Willmar. Pena eagerly made the 100-mile round trips for the opportunity to produce block prints under her tutelage.

"I didn't know how I was going to feel about it,'' said Joos. She balances a busy schedule: Besides the time in her own studio, she works at a dental clinic and is the town's librarian. "My free time is precious to me,'' she said.

But Joos said the time with Pena proved to be very rewarding. Pena's enthusiasm and fresh insight led both to look at art in new ways.

Pena said she had been working with black and white prints, but delved into colors and more abstract designs, thanks to the experience.

Nilssen said she is excited not only by the opportunity to offer the program, but to have found students with the dedication demonstrated by the participants.

Other students participating in the mentor project and exhibit are Shalese Sands and Heather Erickson.