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Tributes pour in for revered artist and professor Marley Kaul

Marley Kaul was so much more than a teacher of art. He and Sandy, his wife of 58 years, became active leaders in the arts community in Bemidji, their home since 1967. The Marley & Sandy Kaul Gallery is the largest display area at the Watermark Art Center.

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Artist Marley Kaul and poet Geri Wilimek share stories from their book "For Now" at a reading and exhibit at First Lutheran Church on July 15. Kaul died last week after a lengthy illness with pulmonary fibrosis. (Contributed / Julia DeLeone)

BEMIDJI -- Lisa Robinson wasn’t sure about enrolling as an art student at Bemidji State University in 1994. At 29, she was older than most students. But a compassionate professor named Marley Kaul gave her the confidence she needed, and to this day Lisa is sharing her paintings with the world and teaching others because of that professor.

Kaul died on Sunday, Aug. 1, at the age of 82 and tributes from former students, friends and art have been pouring in. Robinson is just one of many who have shared fond memories of Marley.

“I was really hesitant about going to BSU,” Robinson said. “I thought I was too old. I had already been doing art and traveling. Marley sat down with me and told me I was exactly the kind of student they needed because I had a lot of life experience and came in the door with my own passion for art. From day one there was a really strong connection to the type of painting and the depth that went into it.”

Kaul was so much more than a teacher of art. He and Sandy, his wife of 58 years, became active leaders in the arts community in Bemidji, their home since 1967. The Marley and Sandy Kaul Gallery is the largest display area at the Watermark Art Center.

After retiring from BSU in 1997, Marley focused even more on his work in egg tempera painting. His studio on the couple’s property became a place of solitude and sharing.

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“I would go and spend time with him in his studio and see his new work,” Robinson said. “One time we were in his studio just talking about everything for seven hours. I didn't even go outside once. There were a lot of times like that. We just had a lot in common in terms of spiritual beliefs and our relationship to the land. He made a huge difference in my life in many ways. He was an incredible human being. He was a really deep soul.”

In addition to his painting, Marley published three books in the last six years. All three were adorned with his paintings. The first, titled “ Letters to Isabella ,” won a Midwest Book Award for design. It contained letters Marley wrote to his granddaughter, Isabella DeLeone, after he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2014. The next two books, " We Sit " and " For Now ," were collaborations with local poet Taiju Geri Wilimek, pairing her words with his art.

Among the many people who shared Facebook tributes to Marley upon his death were Carolyn Jacobs of Bemidji and Monica Hansmeyer, a jewelry artist from Turtle River.

Jacobs credited Marley and Sandy Kaul with helping create an art gallery more than 20 years ago at her business, Uptown Caffe (now Wild Hare Bistro).

“They studied the space and its natural light, and offered ideas on wall colors and texture and effective placement of lighting fixtures,” Jacobs wrote. “Those walls have hosted hundreds of artist exhibits over the past two decades and, I believe, helped expand the concept of galleries in our community.”

Hansmeyer met Marley when she was completing her studies in the art department at BSU. She appreciated his guidance as a teacher and his friendship as a fellow artist.

“Marley was a kind, direct and talented professor,” Hansmeyer wrote. “When I’d see him around town, conversation always came easy.”

Another local artist, Alice Strand, wrote about Kaul’s popularity among BSU art students.

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“He was a wonderful man and an artist beyond compare,” Strand wrote. “I remember in college half a century ago it was very difficult to get into his classes because EVERY art student wanted him as a professor. Thanks, Marley Kaul, for what you have meant to this community.”

A memorial service and reception for Marley will be held at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14 at the First Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall Gallery, which features many of his paintings.

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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