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Bemidji's Art in the Park turns 45

This colorful banner will welcome the thousands of visitors to Bemidji's annual art festival Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. on both days. Admission is free.

BEMIDJI - Art in the Park all started in Bemidji some 45 years ago when Helen Gill was unable to go on a buying trip for Gill Brothers Clothing, a local haberdashery.

As quoted in a 1983 edition of "Minnesota North," a joint venture of Bemidji Community Arts Center and Region 2 Arts Council, "Every year I was in New York City at the start of the colorful Greenwich Village Art Show," said Helen Gill. "One year, 16 years ago, I could not be in New York at that time. But, after a day or two, I decided to do something about it. Instead of Art-in-the-Village, why not arrange to have Bemidji area artists show their works for people here to enjoy?"

The article further stated that within two weeks, 48 enthusiastic artists showed their work on the Bemidji lakefront, and that was the start of "Art in the Park." Gill was later awarded the first Friend of the Arts recognition as an arts patron in 1989, a tradition that continues today.

In 1967 a public arts event that still happens every year on the third weekend in July began with 48 local artists and crafts people. They exhibited work in quilting, woodcarving, stained glass, weaving and other high crafts. Fine arts were represented in oil and watercolor painting, with photography and silk screen also on display.

Now Art in the Park is considered to be one of the finest juried art shows in the country, and artists from coast to coast compete to exhibit their work. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, more than 8,000 people will tour the aisles of booths, sample food and listen to music by local artists.

In celebration of its 45th anniversary, the festival is adding a children's activity tent where they can make wooden boats, enjoy puppetry with Margaret Burger and have their faces painted. Mary Ann Rice from the Greater Bemidji Area joint planning office will host a video booth to capture Bemidji stories from festival-goers.

Among the new artists who have been accepted this year are Betsy Bowen from Grand Marias, who does woodcuts for her children's books, and Thomas Gross from Cottage Grove, whose oil painting of waterfowl was chosen as the 1984 migrating waterfowl stamp for Minnesota. Linda Brueske from Florida will be exhibiting live plants in recycled vintage vessels in her rusty gate gardens. This year, Minnesotan Steve Claypatch will be showing his blown glass. That is just a sampling of first timers.

A few Bemidji first-timers are also in the mix: Alice Blessing will display her unique style of portraiture, and master ukulele builder Jeff Burger will be on hand with his ceramics, too.

A fundraising booth for the Blue Angels Dance Team from Bemidji High School will be featured. They will be selling tacos in a bag, pop and water to support the senior dance team trip to the Outback Bowl Dance Team event in Florida over the holidays.

Northstar Vending will be selling shaved ice this year, long asked for by festival attendees. The usual kettle corn poppers, willing to let passersby sample their goodies, will join with the other food vendors and fundraisers for some good old-fashioned comfort food and drinks.

This family event is eagerly anticipated each year in the tree-lined Library Park on the lakefront. Although there may be fewer trees this year, this event to celebrate the arts in Bemidji welcomes more visitors each year. Entrance to the park is free and the event is hosted by the BCAC.