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Celebrating a rural landscape

"Wood County Round Barn'' Richard Wunsch, Wausau, Wisc.1 / 2
"Racing Daylight'' Clarence (Kelly) Welch, Willmar2 / 2

Life presents some difficult choices.

Do not pity Luanne Fondell for having to make these.

She helped select nearly 70 different artworks by 18 rural artists from Minnesota and Wisconsin that are displayed in the new branch office and corporate headquarters building for United FCS in Willmar.

The 20,000-square-foot building sits on a 6.4-acre site at the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 South and 45th Avenue Southeast (Kandiyohi County Road 19) south of Willmar.

''There were many more decisions to make than I ever imagined,'' said Fondell. She is a senior closing specialist with United FCS in Willmar and active in promoting the arts.

As part of the plans for the new building, United FCS issued a call for art to be displayed in the building's offices and public areas. It asked for art from artists who live in the 22 counties of Minnesota and Wisconsin served by the cooperative.

United FCS wanted to emphasize the beauty of rural and agricultural life in the region it serves.

Fifty-five artists submitted more than 250 entries in response to the call. The entries included photographs, watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings, stained glass and linoleum block prints.

The difficulty came in selecting from so many outstanding works. There were so many compelling works from so many talented artists, explained Fondell.

There were things to consider. They wanted art that showed the variety of the rural landscapes found in the area United FCS serves.

Most of all, they wanted art that connected with the vibrancy and rural values of United FCS's members today.

"We really have to look to the future,'' said Marc Knisely, chief executive officer.

Purchasing art works directly from rural artists meant that United FCS could support the rural communities of its members.

It also proved far more cost-effective than acquiring prints or works from artists outside the region, although perhaps better known.

Yet by any measure, the biggest benefit has been the eye-opening experience the rural art provides.

Fondell has always had an appreciative eye for both art and the rural landscape. Yet the opportunity to see the rural landscapes through the eyes of so many different artists has given her a whole new perspective. "It's made me look at the landscape with new eyes,'' she said.

There are regional differences in the works, to be sure. Many of the works from artists in Wisconsin depict landscapes with rolling hills and closely-clustered farm buildings. In contrast, the works of Minnesota artists are more likely to feature images of expansive, open fields of soybeans and corn.

Yet no matter the setting, all celebrate the beauty of rural and agricultural life, noted Fondell.

That is also very much the goal of the new 20,000 square foot branch office and corporate headquarters for United FCS. Its architecture incorporates agricultural images including a cupola and weather vane. A small shelter belt planting and native prairie grass plantings along the perimeter of the property accentuate its rural theme.

The art works are located all about the United FCS building, including public areas, conference rooms and private offices.

Tom Cherveny

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

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