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Art in the making: Tawnee Corning works as artist, gardener and mother

Artist Tawnee Corning, an avid gardener, also runs Headwaters Seeds, a company she started two years ago. She enjoys fermenting her own wine and sauerkraut, canning and preserving her harvests, cooking, baking, fishing and hunting.

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Tawnee Corning works on a painting in her home studio in Bagley.
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BAGLEY — When Tawnee (Geller) Corning was a second-grader at Northern Elementary in Bemidji, her art teacher took notice of the young girl’s artistry.

Teacher Carol Jacobson submitted Tawnee’s painting of a cat to the 1998 Child Art USA national contest, and it was one of 50 winning entries. She won a trip to Washington, D.C., with her family and Jacobson, where the art was displayed at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center.

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Tawnee (Geller) Corning is pictured with her contest-winning painting that earned her a trip to Washington, D.C., when she was between second and third grade at Northern Elementary.
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“That was so unexpected,” Corning said. “It was a painting of a cat looking over a table with a vase of flowers. I had to miss the first week of third grade because of the trip.”

Twenty-four years later, Corning is still creating art, now as a professional painter. But that’s only part of what keeps the Bagley woman busy. She and her husband, Shane, have two children, with another one on the way.

An avid gardener, she also runs Headwaters Seeds, a company she started two years ago. She enjoys fermenting her own wine and sauerkraut, canning and preserving her harvests, cooking, baking, fishing and hunting.

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And she’s writing her first book, an introduction to fermenting, which she will also illustrate.

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Tawnee and her children, Errol and Isley, stand beside her tallest sunflower from 2021, a Titan Sunflower.
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It’s a career path that took a few twists and turns. After graduating from Bemidji High School, Corning attended the Professional Salon Academy and became a licensed cosmetologist.

She worked in local salons from 2009 to 2017, when her daughter Isley was born. She’s been a stay-at-home and ever-busy mom since then.

A painting focus

“I always painted on the side until 2011, when people started asking if I did commissions,” Corning said. “So that’s when I officially started having shows and taking it more seriously.”

Her first commission was a Pink Floyd painting.

“I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan,” she said. “Then I was doing a lot with alcohol inks. That’s what I had at my first show at Glazed and Amused when it was still open downtown.”

Corning has recently received two grants for her art in the past year. One is an Individual Artist Grant from the Region 2 Arts Council with funding from the McKnight Foundation. The other one is from the Minnesota State Arts Board. She hopes the grants will help take her to the next level.

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Tawnee Corning's oil and acrylic painting titled “Nature Nurture” was done on a stretched canvas that measures 5 feet by 6 feet.
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“I’ve been taking it more seriously now that I’ve been applying for more grants,” she said. “Being able to have supplies funded just opens up so many more doors to products I can be using and the scale that I can be painting at. I want it to be a totally immersive experience in itself, the painting.”

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She has been painting on 5-foot by 6-foot canvases, recording the process and uploading the videos to YouTube. One of her recent paintings from the Arts Board grant is titled “As I went out one morning…” It was done with oils and spray paint, and shows a woman floating through the air over a field and pond.

“They’re supposed to be the human connection to nature, just how that is needed,” Corning said. “The idea for that one came to me right before I fell asleep one night. Luckily it stuck with me. So I was able to paint it rather quickly because I just had this image in my head that I could not get out.”

She hopes to have her work displayed at local galleries, but for now, they can be viewed on her website, beacons.page/tawneecorning .

Starting a seed business

The Cornings have gotten into gardening over the last nine years. Tawnee was buying seeds online from smaller shops, but in 2020 she decided to start her business, Headwaters Seeds.

“I was looking for another source of income,” she said. “I started small with some things I’ve grown, but now order some seeds in bulk and then other ones are things that I grow.”

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As part of her Headwaters Seeds business, Tawnee Corning has developed giant sunflowers. She's pictured here beside one of her Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflowers.
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Her specialty is giant sunflowers, but she also grows a variety of flowers, vegetables and heirloom tomatoes. She sells her seeds online at etsy.com/shop/headwatersseeds .

“It’s extra work,” Corning said, “but it’s manageable enough so that I can just spend a couple of hours a day tops, and I’m caught up for the day and I still get everything shipped out within 24 hours.”

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Tawnee Corning and her son, Errol, share a moment in her main garden.
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Tawnee's daughter, Isley, is pictured with a couple of Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower heads.
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Related Topics: SLICE OF LIFEART
Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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