GRANITE FALLS - For over three decades, Dale and Jo Pederson have built a reputation for the rustic furniture and timber frame structures they craft from willows and trees they harvest from the woodlands of the Upper Minnesota River Valley they call home.
Sounds like they knew exactly what they were doing when they decided to make their living by following their passion.
"No, we hadn't thought about anything like this," said Jo, laughing. "I wanted a chair. That's the story."
Artists in the Upper Minnesota River Valley are celebrating the 15th year of the popular Meander Arts Crawl by honoring Dale and Jo Pederson of Stony Run Woods as the event's featured artists.
Finding their way
It's not what they would have predicted when they decided to build a home and raise their children in Stony Run Township located between Granite Falls and Montevideo. It's where Dale had grown up on a farm. He had learned carpentry at the side of his father, and furthered his skills by working on wooden schooners carrying tourists along the coast of Maine. It was while living on the East Coast, and on a 1976 trip to Europe, that he discovered the art of timber frame building and knew it was for him.
"I was tuned into it," said Dale. "I really liked that the skeleton of the structure was exposed and you saw the craftsmanship.''
But with a family to raise, it was his carpentry skills that mattered once he and Jo decided to make their home in Stony Run Township. Dale found his work as a carpenter and it often put him on the road.
Jo, a nurse by training, pursued her career as well. One day she came across a photo of a handcrafted chair in a magazine, and decided she wanted to build one. A co-worker had taken a class at the state fair on making rustic furniture. He pulled together alder harvested some 200 miles to the north, and taught them the basics.
"Your first chair and my first chair, they're miserable. They're really uncomfortable,'' said Dale.
But they were the start. They discovered their love for crafting the chairs and furniture that are now widely known for their comfort and beauty. They also discovered that the river bottom lands around them offered all that they needed. The willows many farmers were only too happy to have them take proved ideal for crafting into a variety of furniture.
The woodlands surrounding their home near Stony Run Creek offered the sturdy woods that Dale could harvest and cut for timber frame building.
Community of support
The most important resource of all, however, was the community of artists that pursue their passion in the Upper Minnesota River Valley. Artists including Claire Swanson, a basket weaver living outside of Granite Falls, and Lucy and Gene Tokheim, potters and visual artists living outside of Dawson, encouraged them and introduced them to the venues where they could sell their works.
"Sort of encouraging, knowing there were people making a living doing what they wanted to do," said Jo. Believing they could do so too, they devoted themselves increasingly to their passion. They camped at fairs to sell their works in the summers, and spent free hours at home creating their works and harvesting the woods they needed.
Dale met Mark Sandro, a timber framer in Lake Hendricks. He learned a few tips from Sandro and importantly, came to see that he could support himself by building timber frame structures for others. "Meeting someone else doing it was reassuring," said Dale. "He was making a living doing it.''
Demand grew for their works over the years. A big boost came when Midwest Living featured their works with a photo story.
But truth be told, their works sold themselves. Swanson, the basket weaver, said she started sharing booths with the Pedersons at art fairs in the region, and benefited for it. She witnessed how people migrated directly to their comfortable chairs like ticket holders to the front gate.
It's allowed the couple to make their living by following their passions, but both are quick to say that being rural artists also means sacrifice. "You learn to live with what you have,'' said Dale.
By their own admission, they have come many country miles from the "miserable'' chairs they first crafted. They've developed their own style, much of which just came naturally, they explained. "You see pieces of wood and you think of using them in a way that you incorporate their natural shape into the piece that you are making,'' said Dale. "It just becomes. Each piece becomes influenced by the material that you are using."
The works they create here are finding homes in places more and more distant, now that so many have discovered their talents. Dale is currently shaping the timber he will ferry by barge to a remote island in Lake Saganaga on the Minnesota - Ontario border, where it will become an addition to a cabin. Closer to home, his timber frame structures can be found as everything from the porte cochere or grand entrance at the Willow Creek Wedding and Events Center near Osakis to the shelter for the outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven at Moonstone Farm outside of Montevideo.
Their rustic furniture can be found in cabins and homes everywhere from the shores of Lake Minnetonka to the Pacific Northwest.
They like best the fact that they can make a living doing what they enjoy in a rural landscape they love, and as part of a community of artists so supportive of one another.
It's time to Meander
Visitors and locals alike will be exploring the Upper Minnesota River Valley as they enjoy the works of 38 artists at 29 different locations during the 15th annual Meander Arts Crawl this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The popular and award-winning Meander is a free, self-guided tour of the artist's studios and galleries in an area running roughly from north of Ortonville to Granite Falls.
This year's Meander poster and brochure features the work of long-time Meander artists and organizers Dale and Jo Pederson of rural Granite Falls.
New to the Meander this year is artist Doug Peterson from Madison. Doug, a longtime high school art instructor, former state legislator and former Minnesota Farmers Union president, will display his acrylic paintings of trout, salmon and western Minnesota landscapes at Java River Coffee Shop in downtown Montevideo.
Meander art studios and galleries open for visitors at noon on Friday. Ortonville area brothers and musicians Don and Lee Kanten will perform at the Historic Town Hall at Watson from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
On Saturday, Meander art studios and galleries will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday evening will feature a performance by Dawson area artist Lauren K. Carlson, titled "A Life on the Prairie: Poem, Story and Song from Lac qui Parle" at Memorial Auditorium, 601 Ninth Street in Dawson. The event is sponsored by the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association and tickets are available at the door for $15 for adults and $5 for students. For more information, contact the box office: 320-312-2311 or www.dawsonboydarts.org
On Sunday, Meander art studios and galleries will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Meander continues to be a significant cultural and economic event for the region, according to Kristi Fernholz of the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission. Surveys indicate that visitors travel to the region from throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and seven other states. Participating artists reported more than $100,000 in total sales during the three-day event, and artists hosted anywhere from 130 to 1,500 visitors at their sites.
A free brochure detailing the locations of Meander art studios, galleries and events can be obtained by calling 1-866-866-5432. The brochure can also be downloaded at: www.artsmeander.com. More information can also be found on the Meander Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MeanderArtCrawl.
Meander Weekend concert to launch new work by local poet
DAWSON - The Dawson-Boyd Arts Association presents the premiere of a new work "A Life on the Prairie: Poem, Story & Song from Lac qui Parle" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Auditorium in Dawson during Meander weekend.
Poet Lauren Carlson, in collaboration with regional and local musicians, combines her experiences as a writer in a performed reading featuring art song and musical accompaniment.
Themes of Carlson's work include celebrating the natural world while recognizing the challenges of life and work in a rural setting.
Tickets are on sale now through the website at www.dawsonboydarts.org and will also be available at the door. For more information, contact the box office at 320-312-2311.