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Three generations of artists reflect on craft

Three generations of artists, from left, Cheryl Windels, Audrey Merschman and Kristen Purrington talk about their work and motivations. Submittted Photo

BEMIDJI – Three Bemidji artists in the same family share their love of the arts and devotion to their faith in their lives and work.

Grandmother Audrey Merschman has just completed a commission to illustrate “An Advent Poem,” written by Geralyn Sullivan when we sat down to talk last month.

The meeting at daughter and nature photographer Cheryl Windels’ home on Lake Beltrami included granddaughter Kristen Purrington to talk about how three generations of women have provided their answer to the question: “Nature or nurture?”

Grandmother Merschman spoke about the role modeling she saw in her parents, Eddie and Inga Hanson, while growing up in Fosston.

Inga worked in a floral shop, baked for special occasions like weddings and sewed for her family and friends. Inga died about a month ago, but she has left a legacy to her family: love life, pray often and give of yourself to others.

“I am a self-taught painter and have never taken formal lessons. I did go with Mary Betty Quistgard for an hour class in Norwegian painting a long time ago. I did Rosemaling for awhile but did not like it because it was so structured and to be good at it, you had to be good, and I was not good.”

That passion for art started early on in her 58-year-marriage when she had six children in seven years. At first, Merschman would throw away almost as many pictures as she kept. But she continued to paint, buying only what she needed for a particular project from her long time friend at the Old School House.

Her fame and talent grew through the years to the point where she has her work for exhibit or sale at several downtown eateries, the Red Door in Fargo and online at “Designs from the Heart.” She likes talking about the unsolicited illustration commissions she received and completed for the 10-part series, “Questions for God,” available online at or the Rosary book used in classroom devotions.

“I am so blessed to be able to get up in the morning and have something to do,” said Merschman. “I ask myself what I would do if I didn’t have my painting. I can always take out my brushes and I intend to go on painting as long as I can lift my arms.”

Daughter Cheryl remarked that she does not remember a time growing up when there was not an “arts” project going on. There were always lots of coloring books and crayons around the house for the children.

Windels cites the advent of the digital camera as having changed the direction of her creative pursuit from painting to photography. Actually, it was in her early efforts at portraiture that gave her the learning experience she needed to master the art of digital photography.

Now Windels will spend hours in a blind with her Nikon D300S and using a 300-millimeter lens for her wildlife photography along with the favorite 70-200 millimeter lens.

“I love being outdoors and the beauty here (on Lake Beltrami) is just breathtaking,” said Windels. “I started to see the wonders of God’s creation differently through the lens of a camera. To sit in a blind and watch the birds and see their activity in detail is a miracle.”

Windels’ first sunset photo added another dimension to her professional life. Now she uses those scenes to express her faith and finds Bible verses to accompany many of her landscapes. The Bemidji sunrise and sunset pictures make their way to customers from around the world, who order her prints online, primarily through Facebook.

Portrait and special occasion photographer Kristen Purrington cites those years at Bemidji High School with teachers who taught photography and art as mentors. Her paternal grandmother, Marion Janikowski was a prolific artist whose works in watercolor and acrylics were shown in downtown Bemidji galleries. But it was those teen years of taking many pictures that led to her discovery that it is possible to take good pictures without training or the best camera. Purrington, the owner of Purrington Photography, is the third generation to follow the artist’s way.

 After graduating from BHS in 2001, she enrolled as an elementary education major at a small Christian school, Crown College. She realized her dream of teaching vicariously by marrying Patrick Purrington, a second-grade teacher at Horace May School. Today the young wife and mother of a 3-year-old is busy at her craft because she has discovered the secret of her success.

“I like to capture feelings

and emotions in pictures,” said Purrington. “I like to show moments in time; I know what parts not to miss. I also mix a little photojournalism into traditional work. Sometimes I make a composite image using Photoshop like a picture I took of a baby on a guitar. The mother was actually holding the baby but I ‘photo shopped’ her hand out. I always mark them as composite pictures because other people should not try to get the same image without knowing what they are doing.”

Purrington is a member of Professional Photographs Association and active in charity endeavors for non-profits like “Inspiration Through Art” and “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” through the Sanford Medical Center bereavement services. The mission of the non-profit is: “No footprint is so small that it doesn’t leave an imprint on the world.” Most of the black and white photos may only show a pair of baby feet or a similar pose.

All three women agreed that an artist has to have a good eye to be able to see what is not so apparent to others.