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Mother and daughter bring photo project to life

Rose Heim has an extreme love for people, art and being creative. It will come as no surprise to those who know her to learn that she and her daughter, Gretchen, are getting ready to debut their current project involving photographs of 15 unique people from the area.

The project is both complex and simple. It started eight years ago with what Heim and Gretchen called "a good idea." The plan was to have a photo exhibit celebrating the North Beltrami area by featuring a sampling of the people who live there.

"There are so many interesting people in this north woods area, as there are everywhere," Heim said. "There is something people have that I call 'the creative spirit.' They are almost like kindred spirits. I told Gretchen that we have so many people in the area, who to me, have this creative spirit -- I can feel it and I can see it and a lot of them have no clue they have it."

To make a portrait of the kind of people who live in the area communities, Heim and Gretchen decided to select 15 people, have them share their story -- whatever it may be -- and photograph them in a way that represents who they are and why they are unique.

Because they wanted the photographs to have what they refer to as the "it factor," they knew they couldn't use just anyone as a photographer. The person needed to be the highest quality they could find in order to help people understand what they were doing.

"Gretchen and I both do a lot photography, but we knew the project was beyond what we could do," Heim said. "I told Gretchen that we'll put this project on the back burner until we find someone we know will do an amazing job. I am a firm believer that if you know what you want in life, send it out to the universe -- just wait and the opportunity will come back to you."

For the time being, Heim and Gretchen put away their files of notes on the project and Gretchen finished her degree in Mass Communications and Advertising and began work as an art director in advertising. She traveled and worked with professionals around the world. That is how she met Peter Zander.

Zander is a lifestyle advertising photographer from New York. He was in the Twin Cities, where Gretchen lives and works, the two worked together on a few projects. After working with Zander, Gretchen knew the photographer for the project was possibly found.

"Gretchen called me out of the blue one day and said, 'I think we found our photographer' and I knew exactly what she was talking about, even though we hadn't talked about the project in years," Heim said. "All of a sudden, all of this stuff was flashing through my mind, I was so excited."

Heim said she and Gretchen needed to make absolutley sure Zander was the photographer for the job because they didn't want the people they selected to feel uncomfortable or exploited during their photo shoot.

"As a professional, one of Peter's gifts is making people feel comfortable during shoots," Heim said.

She explained that she and Gretchen held off on asking Zander if he would take the photos for the project until she had a chance to get a feel for him. When he called Heim to order some of the lotions she made, she said she just went for it. "I said, 'Peter, I just have to tell you about this project Gretchen and I have been thinking about for the longest time.' After I told him, he said it sounded very intriguing and that he'd think about becoming involved," she said.

Five months later, he called saying he was on board.

Zander came to Kelliher in the summer of 2008 and took the area portrait photos over the course of five days. He took over 200 photos of each subject to get the best results possible.

"This turned out to be an excellent partnership," Heim said of the relationship that was built with Zander. "Gretchen and I had the vision of what we wanted and he captured it perfectly. And from his standpoint, this is his passion and the photos he took for our project helped him get another big job."

After the shoot was completed, Heim and Gretchen started getting the prints together, finding a place for them to show, getting them professionally framed and finding an official name for the project.

Because there are no art galleries in Kelliher, Heim said rather than bringing people to the art, they are bringing the art to the people. They will unveil one photo each month for the next 15 months starting June 27.

The events will take place at a community gathering spot chosen by the people in the photo. There will be two identical photographs framed -- one will be given to the subject, another will go on display in the Old Kelliher School community center.

The first unveiling will be of Elmer Sutton June 27 at 2 p.m. at the Kelliher Senior Center. There will be a potluck and it is open to the public. The American will announce the person and location each month prior to the event.

"This project is just a sampling of the wonderful people who live in this area. I think people will really enjoy it and are going to be really proud," Heim said. "I can't believe it is actually going to start. When we're done, we're going to donate the entire show to a permanent place in the community."

The project is funded, in part, by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the 2008 election.

According to Heim, "We are grateful for their support as well as the Upper Red Lake Association (funding request in process) and the volunteer assistance of Arne Mostad-Jensen, who videotaped the interviews with the folks in the photographs. He will present his edited pieces at the monthly unveilings."