Longtime New London artist, art teacher and art advocate Julia Iverson has been named the Prairie Disciple Award award winner by the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council.

The award, which comes with a $1,000 gift, is given to an individual whose activities and involvement have substantially contributed to the arts over an extended period of time.

“I was surprised,” said Iverson, an avid painter whose work hangs in many homes and businesses. “It’s a pretty wonderful honor.”

Iverson was notified in May she’d won the award during a surprise drive-by event at her home that was attended by local artists who nominated her for the honor.

Tom Wirt, a potter from Hutchinson, received the Prairie Star Award, which comes with a $5,000 check. Presented every other year, the Prairie Star Award recognizes an individual artist whose body of work has made a significant contribution to the arts over an extended period of time, who has been recognized by his or her artistic peers, and who has best exemplified the highest quality of work in the region.

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The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, known as SMAC, will formally honor the 2020 award winners during a virtual meeting and fundraiser Sept. 26.

Publicly recognizing these individuals raises the profile of the arts in their community and throughout the 18-county region, according to SMAC.

Julia Iverson

Iverson, 84, was praised for her work as an art instructor who has taught young and old.

After obtaining a master’s degree in art education from the University of Minnesota, Iverson’s first teaching job was with the Minneapolis Public Schools as an elementary art coordinator, which was followed by stints in St. Louis Park, the University of Michigan, St. Cloud, the Willmar Public Schools, Ridgewater College in Willmar and the New London-Spicer School District.

Iverson’s involvement in community organizations was also cited, including her work to organize a group of artists called Creating Art Together, known at CAT, which currently has more than 50 members who meet once a week in New London.

“I’m always pushing to get arts recognized in the area,” said Iverson.

Iverson was nominated for the award by Loni Bultman and Bonnie Smith, with additional accolades provided by three area artists including NLS Art Teacher Kari Weber.

“Julia is not only thoughtful in her pursuits as an art mentor and teacher, but she has always been forward thinking and supportive in bringing the arts to multi-generational communities,” said Weber.

Weber also praised Iverson’s work as a pastel artist and watercolorist who donates much of the proceeds of her art sales to organizations, including the NLS arts program.

Iverson has been involved in the Rural Arts Initiative, the New London Music Festival and numerous art workshops, and also had a career in jewelry design and done commercial art for several businesses.

But Iverson said teaching has always been her first love. “I think I’m a better teacher than an artist,” she said.

She said she especially enjoys teaching elementary-aged children whose imaginations are wide open.

"I teach my students to appreciate all that is unique, different and interesting in life without making judgments about those sights, sounds and experiences,” said Iverson.

Iverson said living in New London, which she calls the “Renaissance of the North,” has been inspiring because of the number of artists who live here and are involved with community art organizations.

But after living in the community for more than 40 years, Iverson and her husband, Roger, are moving next month to Alexandria. She still plans to return to New London once a week for the Wednesday CAT sessions so she can keep encouraging people in their creative journeys in art.

And in the meantime, she will keep painting.

To participate in the SMAC fall virtual celebration go to swmnarts.org.