BEMIDJI -- Lanee Paulson is an artist, but she really appreciates the vibrant music scene in the Bemidji area. So much so that she created a special painting in honor of local musicians and entered it in the Reflections Challenge, an exhibition that will open on Friday, Aug. 7 at Gallery North in downtown Bemidji.
Paulson is one of several creative people who have submitted work for the exhibition. An open house will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. on opening night, and the work will be on display throughout August. Gallery North, located at 310 Fourth St. NW, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The challenge also is sponsored by the Northern Artist Association.
The challenge was issued by Gallery North board president Mary Knox-Johnson back in March after the coronavirus pandemic shut things down. Local artists, writers, poets, photographers, woodcarvers and musicians were urged to develop a work of art around the theme “Reflections” that “captures the spirit of these unknown times.”
Paulson’s colorful music-themed painting features several instruments. She said it will not be for sale, but instead will be donated to Headwaters Music and Arts after the exhibition.
“Having thoroughly enjoyed the music listening and playing opportunities this community offers, I reflected on these opportunities and hope they will all be able to continue soon,” Paulson said. She has performed herself with bell choirs in the community, and also enjoys listening to various musical performances like the Bemidji Chorale, Bemidji Area Community Band, Bemidji Symphony Orchestra and others.
For artist Kathy Sanders, the shutdown gave her a chance to finish some projects, including an acrylic painting on canvas that she has submitted for the Reflections Challenge.
“I took a few classes from Charles Alberti, who is a Gallery North member here,” Sanders said, “and I really learned a lot from his classes. During his classes, though, I wasn’t able to finish the paintings. So when we were at home sheltered I decided that I would finish a bunch of projects. This is kind of my favorite of the ones I finished.”
Sanders normally would have had her work for sale at several art fairs during the summer months, including Bemidji’s Art in the Park, but all of them were canceled. The Reflections Challenge fills some of that void.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “That’s when I decided to finish some paintings instead of starting a new one. Most of the art fairs have been canceled, so to be able to do it in this way I think is a good way to show our work and to see other artists’ work, too.”
Author Barbara Schlichting, who has written about 12 books over the past 20 years, submitted two poems inspired by her grandchildren.
“During this time we weren’t able to visit our grandchildren, of course,” she said. Her grandson was trying to teach her to play chess, but they had to connect virtually. She found an app for her phone to play the game. Her granddaughter was scheduled to attend Norwegian camp at Concordia Language Villages this summer, but that was canceled. So Schlichting tried to teach her the language through text messages.
Both challenges inspired Schlichting to write two poems for the Bemidji event.
“I don’t have a fiction book going,” Schlichting said, so she was able to work on the poems in time for the Reflections Challenge. She also has been doing research for a reference book she plans to write about First Ladies of the United States dating back to Martha Washington.
Jamie Lee’s submissions are two stained glass pieces.
“During the beginnings of the COVID period I was in Texas,” she said, “and my goal was to take a couple of stained glass classes. Right at the shutdown time I was surrounded by glass. I had bought a grinder and spent all this money on these tools, and so I was just one with glass out in my little carport in Texas.”
Her husband died in November, so Lee has decided to honor him with one of her stained glass pieces that features two figures.
Lee said Knox-Johnson’s challenge has been a welcome diversion during the shutdown. She also explained how the challenge has inspired people to be creative now more than ever. "Because that’s what we have to do, be creative and stay in touch," Lee said.
Barb Schrag’s challenge items certainly fit the times. She learned about the event from her sister, Jamie Lee. “I told her I’m not an artist,” Schrag recalled, “and she said ‘yes you are.’”
Schrag, who describes herself as a crafter, also does textile art. For the Reflections Challenge, she first made a quilt and fabric basket she calls “Basket Case,” which is how she felt when the pandemic hit.
“I think it fit because at the beginning nobody knew where they were at,” she said.
She also used her crafting skills to refurbish a small chest of drawers she found outside a recycling bin.
“It was broken, so I took it home and fixed it up,” Schrag said. “Then I decided I needed a zen place in my house, a place where I can pray or think or contemplate what we’re all going through.”
She got recycled drawer handles for the piece from her niece, and painted a circular design on the front.
“There are thousands of dots of paint on that design,” Schrag said, who also submitted three fabric fish to the challenge. “I found my zen, and I use that space. My items aren't for sale. They will be gifts to people or will stay with me. It’s all just fun."
Les Sanders, a longtime woodcarver, created an elaborate fantasy house out of cottonwood.
“It’s taken me quite a while to get it done,” Sanders said, who learned about the event from his wife, Kathy. “I have 180 to 200 hours invested in it.”
Knox-Johnson is thrilled with the reaction to her challenge.
“It’s just exciting to finally be able to put it all together,” she said. “We started in March and just kept putting it off, thinking maybe we’ll be back to normal in April, or May or June. Then finally it was like, ‘OK, August it is.'
"Part of it was to lift the spirits, too. We knew that people were going to get really down with isolation, so we wanted to keep it positive to keep people’s mental spirits up. If you’re forced to be positive, you’ll be positive.”