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'He never had to stop creating': Retired teacher donates art to Sanford Center in honor of local medical staff

The Sanford Center on Thursday unveiled nine art discs donated by the late Harold Clementson Sr. of Bemidji, a retired teacher and rock-polisher. The pieces are steel photographs of Stromatolite, or petrified algae, and are located in hallways along the convention center and suites. From left are Roger Swanson, Sanford Center executive director; Sandy Kaul, chairwoman of the Sanford Center Art Committee; Connie McDanel, Clementson's daughter; and Chuck Clementson, Clementson's son. Monte Draper | Bemidji...

BEMIDJI - Nine new art pieces adorn the Sanford Center hallways, thanks to the late Harold Clementson Sr.

Clementson, 87, a retired teacher and rock-polisher, died in March, but before he passed, he donated nine steel photographs to the Sanford Center in honor of local physicians.

"This display is being given to honor Sanford doctors and nurses who kept me enjoyably alive for a long time," he told the Sanford Center before he died.

The nine pieces were installed about a month ago and unveiled Thursday as Clemenson's son and daughter viewed the works in their new home.

"They look awesome," said Connie McDanels. "I think they add interest.

"It's a good place to display them for sure," said Chuck Clementson.

The pieces, which make up the first-ever gift of art given to the Sanford Center, are all circular steel photographs of stromatolite, petrified algae that Clementson himself mined at the Biwabik Iron Formation of the Mesabi Iron Range.

Stromatolite, the petrified algae, is the oldest fossil on Earth that can be seen with the naked eye, according to Clementson. The algae flourished in warm seas over what is now Minnesota.

The photosynthetic organisms, which flourished about 2 million years ago, changed Earth's atmosphere to an oxygen-based atmosphere. It was petrified by jasper, a type of quartz.

Clementson purchased mineral rights and mined the Stromatolite, which then was sliced, polished and photographed. It was reproduced on steel with a process called InFusion, which was done by First Innovation of Walker.

Four of the art discs were installed along the hallway in the George W. Neilson Convention Center. Four others were installed along the hallway outside of suites on the upper level of the arena. The ninth was installed in the Sanford Center's office.

While walking among them, Chuck Clementson said they added perspective. It was because of the Stromatolite, which created an oxygen-based atmosphere, that humans can exist today, he noted.

The cut of the Stromatolite dictates the pattern that appears on the pieces. If cut in one direction, the tops of the Stromatolite appear as swirls. If cut lengthwise, you can see layers upon layers of Stromatolite, reminiscent of rings in a tree trunk.

"They turned out really nice," Chuck Clementson said.

The family now is working with the Sanford Center toward donating one of the actual Stromatolites, which could be located in a locked case for observation.

Clementson himself did not live to see the pieces installed, but he did learn before his death that they would be installed in the Sanford Center, per his wish.

In particular, his gift honors Dr. William Muller; nurse Jenny Hardy; Dr. Mark Shanfeld of the Sanford Eye Center; Dr. Lynn Siepker; Dr. Jeffrey Watkins; and Dr. Kevin Schoepel.

The pieces also were given in honor of Sanford Dialysis Clinic staff, especially Dr. Thomas Ahlin, Dr. Dan Louvar and the entire nursing staff: Darla Borgen, Bridget McNeil, Nancy Guimaraes, Chad Bowman, Deb Boch, Shelly Anderson, LeeAnn Hemp, Sarah Schwanz, Trina Holm, Kathy Green, Kathy Huber, RaeLynn Hastings, Shannon Storlie and techs Kathy Schmitt, Sarah Piller and Brandy Kaasa.

McDanel said the medical personnel not only kept her father alive, but kept him healthy enough so he could continue living. He was active throughout his life, despite serious health complications such as heart surgery and dialysis.

"He just felt like his doctors were so incredible," she said. "He never had to stop creating."

Clementson, a retired Bemidji High School teacher, was fascinated by science and history. His interest in the Earth's formations led to the founding of Minnesota Gemstones, a rock-polishing and souvenir business that he and his wife, Lorraine, operated for 52 years.

In an interesting twist, Clementson's stromatolite pieces are now on display not far from where the Clementson family once lived and operated its rock-polishing business

Clementson and his late wife used to own the land around the kids' fishing pond. The land was sold in the mid-1990s to John Zacher and then, later, to the city of Bemidji for construction of the Sanford Center.

"It's a very nice connection," said Sandy Kaul, the chairwoman of the Sanford Center Art Committee, who worked with Clementson to accept the donation. "It's sort of like coming full circle."