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The right place: Lois Dale, 91, turned old Carr Lake Schoolhouse into art center

Lois Dale is joined by her daughter, Diane Halverson, as they run through an old dance routine at the dance studio in the Old Schoolhouse. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

When the prospective owners of the discarded and derelict Carr Lake Schoolhouse, 2335 Monroe Ave. SW, arrived to inspect it, the front door hung open and all the windows were broken.

“My husband was a civil engineer and he heard about the school going up for sale by the school board,” said Lois Dale. “Our daughter Diane’s dance studio was in our basement and she needed more space so we went to look at the building. In fact, we looked at many buildings around, but none seemed just right.”

The Dales’ bid on the building and five-acre lot made them the new owners back in 1972.

When Dale and her daughter, Diane Dale Halverson, went to the top floor of the building, they both knew they had made a wise choice. They found the perfect covering for a dance studio – wooden floors – and that was the beginning of a long story of how The Old Schoolhouse became integral to the Bemidji arts community.

Forty years have passed since that decision by the Dale family to move into the schoolhouse and renovate it by themselves, project by project. Glass from the broken windows had to be swept up and removed, the heating system needed an upgrade, and the necessary adjustments to the previous classrooms and offices had to be studied. What would fill the rest of the building?

That problem was solved early.

Lois Dale envisioned a place where people could come to study with artists proficient in their craft. There was a couple who taught art for about a year before moving out of state. Well-known area artists like Wanda Odegard, Maureen O’Brien and the late John Losh were only a few of the instructors at the schoolhouse.

Dale also needed a space where she could sell her own crafts and artwork. She is especially proud of her list of over 1,400 consignees – people who have sold their handiwork at the Schoolhouse.

She only had to advertise for arts and craft items one time in 1973. She hasn’t advertised since.

Little by little, the schoolhouse filled up with items large and small by Dale and her family.

“We moved here from a town in southern Minnesota in 1946,” Dale said. “I was a high school English and math teacher. That’s why my framing is so accurate: trigonometry.”

A tour of the Hall of Frames, located in one of the smaller side rooms, is an indication of the abundant materials in stock.

Now people come from all over, even Canada, to browse the arts supplies and equipment; bring in pictures to be framed and purchase hand-made items from consignees.

The Old Schoolhouse is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Dale still works six days a week for 10-hour days because she gets to the schoolhouse early to do paperwork before opening for business. The only thing different now is that this 91-year-old former teacher, dancer and artist has an assistant manager.

Katie Meulebroeck, Dale’s granddaughter, works at the store and, if needed, also upstairs with her mother at Diane’s Dance Studio.

“We have days when we’re really busy selling arts supplies for it’s the only store in the area to stock such a range of offerings from Windsor Newton and Greenbacher to specialty items such as Rosemaling supplies,” said Katie.

Grandmother Lois quickly adds that they sell below list price and cover almost anything an artist, sign painter, architect, framer, wood burner or carver, or a just-for-fun crafter would need or enjoy.

Katie and her twin sister, Amy Edwards, both display their art work at the store. Katie makes handcrafted aprons, pillows, scarves, bags, and so much more while Amy makes creations for home, office, cabin and condos.