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An artist's journey

Pam Nelson is pictured in 1989 along with her fellow artists who came together to found Gallery North. Pictured are, in the back row from left, Kathy Gustafson, Lois Helgen, Erma Stelter, Joyce Martin, Dee Saltee, Pam Nelson, and Jo Thompson; and, front row, Wanda Odegard, Maureen O'Brien, Ann Dunlap, Kari Miller, Betty Sauer, and Claudine Mattison. Not pictured is Shirley Solberg.1 / 3
Pam Nelson won Best in Show for this piece, titled "Awaiting the Catch," at the Hawley Art Show.2 / 3
Pam Nelson painted this watercolor of a brave dressed for a powwow.3 / 3

BEMIDJI -- When local artist Pam Nelson looks back on the past 25 years, she is sure to include a group of friends she made during the first few years of moving to Bemidji. She and her artist friends would meet to banter and tease each other while "doing art" at Dee Saltee's house.

"Joyce Martin, Kari Miller, Betty Sauer, Dee and I would meet to paint, share ideas and enjoy a few laughs," said Nelson. "I began the medium of watercolor at the Minnetonka Art Center before moving to Bemidji in 1981 and met the people in Northern Artists Society. Betty Sauer and Wanda Odegard were very instrumental in my painting with watercolor. I couldn't have found better teachers, who were so willing to share their skills. There has always been a very good arts community here."

Nelson also points to a class she took at Bemidji State University with author Kent Nerburn as instrumental in her development of "the artist's way." The class, "Dialogue Among the Arts," proved to be very challenging as Nerburn taught it as a philosophical venture into the arts; how different or how similar are the mediums from each other. For example, an author would try to see a painter's world and compare to the writer's world. Nelson added that it was a difficult class but she gained much insight from it.

Nelson, a graduate of Ohio University in Interior Design, remembers back to preschool and her love of finger painting. She was always trying out some kind of creative outlet and can point to a great-grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. from England in the early 1900s. Caleb Clarke worked for a large corporation upon arriving in America and an oil painting of Abe Lincoln executed by him hung in their art gallery for years. Some relatives have dabbled in art but none as seriously as Nelson.

So serious, in fact, that she and her artist friends talked about opening a venue for displaying their work and "bringing those old pictures out from under the bed or store room." The original group of 14 grabbed the opportunity when Ace Hardware moved out of the JCPenney's building on Beltrami Avenue and they secured the space, sharing it with Griffy's, a bakery and luncheonette.

"There were 14 charter members and we all cooperated in opening an art gallery," Nelson said. "We developed a business plan, chose a name (Gallery North) and opened for business. Over the years we moved to a number of different locations including the lower level of the former tourist information center, there were a few shops there."

Nelson added that the members had some much fun painting a façade on all the business fronts.

Gallery North found a permanent home in the Ink Spot Press building at the foot of the Irvine Street bridge in November 2001. A co-op 501(c)3 art store, its members are devoted to emerging artists and established artists in promoting art and benefiting the Bemidji area as well as fitting into the civic and social aspects of the town.

Nelson has since left the membership of Gallery North, although some of the original members recently met to laugh and cry a bit over their early years and "learning to make art." Gallery North member artists have expanded exponentially, as have their creations.

When Nelson's husband, Dick, retired, the opportunity for travel became a reality and the couple visited their children, grandchildren and step-grandchildren across the country. They established the Richard and Pam Nelson Visual Arts Fund administered by the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment, a component fund of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

Nelson won many prizes at the Minnesota Artist's regional shows and Best in Show for a painting, "Awaiting the Catch," at the Hawley Art Show. Nelson and her friend Sauer team-taught several watercolor classes at the Headwaters School for Music and the Arts and Nelson solo-taught for two Elderhostel Workshops.

Life has taken a different course again and Nelson has reunited with some of her professional artist friends to form Artists of Studio 10, which displays primarily out of Ravenrock Gallery. They have smaller displays this month at Brigid's Pub and the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Nelson's solo work can be viewed now on the first floor of the main clinic, the vascular waiting room at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, the family practice suite and some individual physician's offices.

"My passion has always been art and I've naturally gravitated toward other artists and formed an invaluable network and environment in which to produce my work," Nelson said. "I now have expanded the mediums I use to include acrylics, oils, encaustics, mixed media, and anything I can get my hands on. I can't imagine my artistic journey being any more fulfilling than it is."