When the initial Bemidji First City of the Arts Studio Cruise was held in 2009, there were nine participating artists to welcome visitors to their studios.
Since that time, the cruise has added many artists and new towns along the U.S. Highway 2 West border as far north as Puposky and as far south as Akeley on the U.S 2 South border. Almost all of the original artisans are back this year, and some of the newer participants include Marley Kaul of Bemidji and Norwegian folk artist Bob Paulson of Shevlin. This year, the tour times and dates are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23.
Tourists come to Bemidji for this event and are welcomed to the various studios with refreshments - usually cider and cookies, a chance to view the artist at work and talk about the process and, of course, the opportunity to purchase some art work. This year's brochure is available now at the Chamber of Commerce, Bemidji Community Arts Center, local restaurants, food stores, hotels and motels. All the artists and their studios are clearly indicated on the map as well as information on local bike trails, parks and pictures of participating artists.
This year's sponsors of the studio cruise are VisitBemidji, The Bemidji Pioneer, Gary Burger Video Productions and Paul Bunyan Communications. This activity is made possible, in part, by grants provided by the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment and Region 2 Arts Council through funding from the Minnesota State Legislature.
One of the original artists is Christina Thorne, who will welcome tourists and Bemidjians to her newly revamped studio on Maple Lake.
Thorne remembers telling her third grade teacher that she wanted to be a jeweler when she grew up. Thorne's mother, Jane, bought her books; the earliest attempts were string and small beads and a plastic bead to put in boiling water to soften and then mold. Abstract pieces were the usual end products and Thorne's mother would find craft shows for her daughter to participate in, even at an early age.
"I guess I've always liked jewelry," Thorne said. "My grandmother liked jewelry, and I remember playing with hers as a child. Then my mom told me that I could make my own jewelry, and I was very interested in doing that. I was 8 years old when I first started."
There were times in Thorne's life when she didn't make jewelry, and at 20, she moved to Minneapolis. After about a year, she got a job at a bead store. Thorne renewed her interest and worked with many other creative people who taught her techniques she was able to develop into her own style.
"A few years ago, I took a summer class at Bemidji State University from Linda Brown doing metal, casting and enameling," said Thorne. "I don't know exactly why I like it (enameling) because I primarily work with bone, stone and natural elements, but as it turns out, they work really well together. I like to make pendants and could not find the pieces I needed, so I decided to make them myself."
Thorne starts her projects in enamel work with copper pennies that are from 1979 or older; friends keep her well supplied. The pennies are flattened and then molded into an oval disc. Newer pennies are not pure copper, so they will melt when heated in a 1,500 degree kiln. The same penny is worked on for many repetitive stages that require spraying, sifting colors on, drying, heating, cooling, washing, until the desired color(s) or effects are reached.
Now the owner of Bad Cat Creations in downtown Bemidji, Thorne has turned her childhood dream into a reality. The three-year anniversary of the boutique is coming up in October. Thorne welcomes other area artisans and artists to display and sell their work.
"I've always wanted to have my own shop," she said. "Doing summer shows where you set up and take down over a weekend is a lot of work, but I met a lot of interesting people. I wanted to have a funky, contemporary shop that offered traditional art work and funky, snarky, neat things that I didn't find in Bemidji very often. I was already selling jewelry under 'Bad Cat Creations' named after my tuxedo cat, who is so naughty."