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Blessing cherishes his Bemidji roots


Mitch Blessing is eager to let you know that he was born on the shore of Lake Bemidji in what is now Baker Park Apartments.

He mused about his long attachment to this city and why he feels the tug to return to his native roots where he was born in 1974 to John and Linda Blessing.

He said Bemidji High School teachers, such as Vicki Olson and Chris Fettig, fostered his interest in the arts.

"We did 'West Side Story' in 1992," Blessing said. "We built the set. We had a full pit orchestra, choreographed dance, and everybody who was in choir was also in drama.

"Also there was John May, an art teacher who painted signs in the summer and never took the world too seriously. He modeled that feeling of living within your own self and making your own creative space. I appreciated that and his not being afraid to share it," Blessing said. "In my senior year, I got to be a teacher's aide, and in my last semester, I got to do two hours of art a day. I drew cartoons for the school newspaper."

After graduating from BHS, he went to Barcelona, Spain, for a year and then returned to Bemidji State University as an English major to become a teacher like his parents. However, he filled the margins of his notebooks with little cartoons because he really likes to draw small things.

"It's kind of a meditation...because it slows everything down," he said.

He said he realized he should take more art history and drawing classes when his note books became more drawings and less notes.

"It became clear that I was spending time on these elaborate drawings in my notebook," Blessing said. "The scales tipped where they were no longer effective notes for class, and it was then that I switched my major to education as a career choice and thought to keep art as my avocation, but that was a mistake. After sabotaging other choices I embraced art, and that is when I quit school, three years in."

Blessing said he went cross country skiing, traveled to Colorado for 10 weeks of yoga and worked for a woman in a greenhouse. He came back to Bemidji and started a series of apprenticeships in Walker with various artists in pottery, glass blowing and metal work.

"My last apprenticeship was in carpentry with Michael Peterson, and it lasted four years," he said. "He knew I was serious about wanting to learn, not just some yahoo. I wondered if that was what I wanted to be, a carpenter, but realized that I did not want to be self-employed, and that's when I went back to school."

Blessing returned to BSU in 2001 to the art department because he finally realized a natural ability to see space and shape. He spent a lot of time working in sculpture, and because there weren't many students interested in the art form at that time, he could have the studio space to himself. He graduated from BSU in 2004 and went on to the University of Miami for an Master of Fine Arts in sculpture.

"I could see several steps ahead," he said. "I was able to cut things apart and put them back together. The whole idea of seeing something and then trying to invent a way to make it happen. I liked listening to elders, old guys who have a metal shop in their garage, an old engineer who is really a designer. One teacher told me that there is a lot of wisdom in your hands. You can't always put it into words, you can't always describe it, but the knowledge is there."

Blessing said he felt if he was to teach, he wanted to be a hand-on teacher.

Blessing, his wife Alice Linda, who is also a graduate of BSU's art department, and their toddler, Azalea Junebug, have returned to Bemidji while he applies for teaching positions at the college level. They are glad to be back in familiar surroundings with family, friends and people who know their names.

Two of Blessing's life-size sculptures were chosen to be in this year's Bemidji Sculpture Walk. He also is negotiating with BSU to assemble a piece of sculpture on the grounds dedicated to teachers and students who share a common history with him. He said some members of the Bemidji community will be asked to "lend an arm" to the installation. The other piece - a group of transparent people - will possibly be installed on some place where the viewer can see the change of light in the surrounding areas through them.

"I am comfortable dancing with questions, dancing on unbalanced ground," Blessing said.