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Park full of art: Annual Art in the Park celebrates 50th anniversary

Kenlea Osen, 3, smiles in the middle of her colorful and glitter-filled craft project at the Watermark Art Center Family Activity Tent during Art in the Park on Saturday. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Delphine Slape (left), 6, keeps a watchful eye as Tom Dunn gives violin pointers at the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra tent during Art in the Park on Saturday. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have overlooked Library Park in downtown Bemidji for decades, and for every summer the past 50 years, they’ve watched thousands flock the area for Art in the Park.

Saturday was no different, as the Watermark Art Center kicked off the festival’s 50th anniversary celebration by bringing the juried fine arts and craft fair to the forefront of the city.

“This started in 1967, and it’s been going ever since. I think it’s grown a lot, and it’s a wonderful tradition for people,” said Watermark executive director Lori Forshee-Donnay. “A lot of the families that we see, they’ve been coming here for years. And now they’re bringing their kids and grandkids. It becomes a tradition.”

The festival kicked off Saturday with 100 artists set up to showcase and sell their art, which ranged from canvases to ceramics to sculptures, to an anticipated 4,000 attendees. Additionally, food vendors were scattered around the Carnegie Library while an activity tent stood alongside it for kids to make crafts and get their face painted.

“Art in the Park is one of those events where it’s not just an art fair, it’s a community event,” said Forshee-Donnay. “We try to make it a family event so there’s something for everyone…  I think people have a great time when they come to Bemidji.”

And although Paul and Babe are perhaps the most seasoned veterans when it comes to Art in the Park, Lance Hanfeler isn’t far behind.

Hanfeler, a 1969 graduate of Bemidji State and current Baxter resident, said he’s been coming to the fair for 45 years. His tent is filled with his pieces from Lakes Area Pottery -- all of which he makes himself.

“I’ve always liked Bemidji and kept on coming back to do the show, basically for the love of the town,” said the Brainerd native. “It’s a great show, good turnout. A lot of tourists, so you get business from all over the country.”

And despite retiring as an art teacher in Brainerd in 2003, Hanfeler has kept up his annual appearances at Bemidji’s Art in the Park.

“This is basically a retirement job for me. It’s fun, it gives me something to do and it’s something I enjoy,” he said. “The people who put the show on are fantastic people. They do it right.”

Norah Rendell and the Lost Forty were scheduled to perform on Saturday night, as well, capping Day 1 of the event. Art in the Park will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Library Park, until it wraps up to mark the end of its first 50 years.

But it won’t be losing any steam heading into its second half-century.

“This event, people look forward to it. It shows the support that people have for the arts,” said Forshee-Donnay. “It’s become a destination.”

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.

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