Northwoods Gallery at 218 Third Street in downtown Bemidji features nationally known local artists and artisans through the summer months.
One of the artists, Jane Freeman, has always used Northwoods Gallery for her framing needs. One day, the owner, Christina Coleman, asked if Freeman would like to display some of her work there.
"I was thrilled to be asked, but the space is so large that I called some of my artist friends to see if they would like to display their work as well," said Freeman. "My feeling has always been that Third (Street) could be a very progressive street all the way up."
Freeman said Stillwater began as a destination town for the arts. The downtown business association allowed artists to work in their stores; they could set up in a corner and work in there. Eventually Stillwater became a hub for artists. All the art galleries and shops were refurbished in the town now tourists need to ride on a golf cart to get into town from their parked cars.
"This community is flooded with good artists, and it would be so wonderful if we could see how to make this work for everybody," said Freeman. "It's fun in a community to have different places to go. The Yellow Umbrella down the street is a little more funky and we are more traditional."
Freeman and her artist friends involved in this new venture believe that Bemidji can become another Walker or Park Rapids where women friends go for lunch and shop a bit. With a little community effort, they can come to see the different shops and have a little lunch; it would pay off in the end they all agreed.
Don Houseman, who will be displaying wood cuts and barn paintings and a few prints, added, "Summer is our 'attack time' because we don't have the competition from the sports scene. And the economy kind of swings with the weather as well; people are not happy when it rains and they don't want to carry something to their car."
Freeman countered with her view that while the men enjoy the sporting events, the women can shop; they want places to go and things to do.
The group would like to hone the space into a real gallery, and still keep Christina's vision with custom framing and numbered wild life prints.
Pat Shough (Sillimandi) added, "The owner of Northwoods Gallery said that people were coming in looking for original art by area artists and that's why we were invited to come into her studio."
The group agreed that when visitors come to town, this is the stretch they walk; they go to the Tourist Information Center and get a map: Gallery North, Grandma's Antiques, the Woolen Mills, the Harmony Foods Co-op and Northern Surplus are on this street. And they all agreed that there is a movement in town toward setting up more galleries.
Kathy Gustufson, whose work features wildlife and domestic animals in mixed media and acrylics, will complement her painting with some small sculptures that feature different nest forms. She is also looking for classroom space in town for people who want to take classes.
"I am amazed by how many people want to take classes," said Shough.
"A lot of people who came to my studio during the studio cruise asked about art lessons. At this gallery, I will have original watercolors and acrylics. I might even put a horse in there, you never know, but right now it's flowers."
"The economy has affected the sale of artwork and supplies," said glass artist Pat Schnell of the Glass Shack in Bemidji. "I have stained glass flowers, larger outdoor ornaments and fused plates. Of course, my husband Dean created the Paul Bunyan and Babe in stained glass."
Freeman, who will show some originals and some prints, agreed that the economy is a factor but added, "With this disposable generation, when they change their color palette they look for painting to go with the new look and buy a print at a local chain store. It used to be that when you buy a piece that you really love, you keep it forever."
Wood artist, Duane Shoup will show his own designs that will keep forever. Shoup is known for his "rustic modern" furniture and will have some pieces on display as well as take orders for special designs or for that rocking chair made to order with personal sizing.
There will be other area artists added in the future if this venture is as successful as the originators believe.
Northwoods Gallery owner Coleman is looking forward to this change in her gallery space which also features her creative framing and picture collage work. Her newest venture is in creating picture collages of family groups, perhaps to show the passage of time, nostalgic records for those who will come after us.