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Studio Cruise artist got her start at very young age

Ruth Ann Nordlund can usually be found in her studio surrounded by objects she loves and preliminary set-ups of present and future still life paintings. 2 / 2

BEMIDJ – Ruth Ann Nordlund cannot remember a time when she was not making art. 

Her mother told her that at 3-years-old, she wanted to make sure the grass was painted the correct color, green. Nordlund started getting serious about painting in high school and talked about the mentoring she received from her four art teachers back in Elkhart, Ind.

But it was moving to International Falls to enroll at Rainy River Community College that changed the direction of her life in many ways. It was there she met her future husband, Don, and completed her associate degree in art. Nordlund went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Bemidji State University, where she studied with Marley Kaul and Ruth Paulsen.

Marriage and babies competed with Nordlund’s studies as she went back to BSU to get a bachelor’s degree in art education. When teaching positions were hard to find in art, she went back to school again to get a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. By some quirk of fate, an art teaching position opened up and Nordlund taught art in the Bemidji and Bagley school systems.

“After 12 years of teaching, I decided to take a break and try to pursue a career as a professional painter,” Nordlund said. “I opened a working studio in Bagley in 1994 where I gave private art lessons and exhibited work of other artists. But I still taught school part-time.”

Nordlund points to a pivotal time in her life: taking a David Leffel workshop at the Fechin Institute in Taos, N.M., in 1993. Leffel’s workshop on Chiaroscuro, a painting technique from the Renaissance, influenced Nordlund to devote the majority of her work in this style, which demonstrates the dramatic contrast of light and shadow primarily in still life paintings.

She also took Sherry McGraw workshops at both Fechin Institute and Loveland Art Academy in Loveland, Colo., about six times from 1993 to 2000. McGraw and Leffel both studied with the renowned Arts Students League in New York City.

Nordlund works in oils and uses a simple palette of less than 10 base colors and paints with north light.

“Artists in Rembrandt’s time talked about north light and that’s because there’s no shadows,” said Nordlund. “Sometimes it takes longer to set up a composition (Still Life) than to paint it. I also use a color corrected or broad spectrum light source which is a way to replicate natural light. If you don’t have a good set-up, you’ll never have a good painting.”

Nordlund’s attention to such details might explain her genius in blending colors so that her Still Life’s challenge the viewer to question if the object is real or copied.

She also starts each setup with a concept: edges, color, movement of light within the painting or depth/layering of the medium. This well developed ability to gather variant objects and position them in such a way as to create a whole is a talent developed by the great masters of painting and practiced today by few artists.

Nordlund’s talent in this genre (Chiaroscuro) has led to commissions by people who want to document in art the life of their grandmother or family. These heritage paintings (Still Life) might include the tea pot brought from Norway, a piece of linen or a photo taken long ago of a far-away place and time.

Nordlund does admit that making the objects fit together well is sometimes a real puzzle but she had yet to disappoint her patrons.

Nordlund has retired from teaching now, after almost 20 years, and is devoting her time to painting full time.

This past July, Nordlund had a one-woman show, “Out of the Shadows,” at the Wild Hare Bistro and Coffee House and more than 50 of her painting were on display at the Baudette Depot.

Nordlund’s studio is the third stop on the Red tour of this year’s Studio Cruise, which places her between Maureen O’Brien (Solway) and Duane Shoup’s Wildwood Rustic just down the road. To preview her work, go to