Duluthians create art in Grand Marais winter airLast week about 30 painters and photographers took their canvases and cameras outside capturing the snow- and ice-laden scenery as part of the Grand Marais Art Colony’s fourth annual Winter Arts Festival.
By: Dana Mattice and Naomi Yaeger, Duluth Budgeteer News
Last week about 30 painters and photographers took their canvases and cameras outside capturing the snow- and ice-laden scenery as part of the Grand Marais Art Colony’s fourth annual Winter Arts Festival.
Five participants were from Duluth. Artists stay at a camp on West Bearskin Lake, inaccessible by road.
Why paint in plein air in the winter? “Because we can’t paint snow in the summer,” Duluth painter Lisa Stauffer said.
“Plein air” is a French expression for “open air,” or outdoor painting. “The amazing subtlety of light on the snow is one of the prime motivations that bring us out to work to capture that beauty in a painting,” Stauffer continued. “Then we have the camaraderie of working together with a group of friends, sharing inspiration, companionship, and fun.” She added that the food, music, conversation were also attractive.
While a summer plein-air painting event has run for a decade and features a competition with cash awards, colony director Amy Demmer said the winter model celebrates the beauty of the season and is a retreat for artists to come together and defeat the midwinter blues. Demmer said this type of painting is especially relevant to the Northern Minnesota wilderness because a “mix between scenic landscape and recreational pursuits … really fits with this area.”
The painters and photographers stay for a night or a week at remote Camp Menogyn on the rugged Gunflint Trail, near the Canadian border; $40 a night buys a bunk and three hot meals a day.
As there is no road access to the lodge, they had to trudge across the lake, dragging art supplies and musical instruments in sleds. Others may ski or snowshoe across.
Duluth artist Matt Kania said it would be a shame to quit outdoor painting all season just because of the temperatures.
So they persevere, and strategies include wearing layers and avoiding the sometimes brutal wind. Kristin Blomberg, the program assistant at the colony and a painter herself, held chemical heat packs on her hands
In the evenings, the artists find camaraderie around a fire in the lodge where they talk technique, make music or paint each other. An unofficial Thursday night tradition includes 20 minutes in the sauna followed by a dive through a hole in the frozen lake (while hanging onto an iron rod above for safety).
The photographers are out the earliest, shooting sunrises that change too quickly for the painters to capture. Most painters create two pieces a day, working on canvas for only a few hours. Minneapolis painter Scott Lloyd Anderson said the light shifts too drastically over time to work longer.
These contemporary Minnesota painters follow in the plein-air tradition made famous in the early- and mid-19th century by the Barbizon School and French Impressionists. The tradition has found resurgence since then, including on the North Shore in the 1940s with colony founder Birney Quick.
Duluth artist Lee Englund said he learns something every time.
“And it’s always hard, and it’s always a challenge, but it’s so rewarding when you can get something good,” he said. “They’re wet, they’re fresh, and there’s something really special about that.”
See the results
A selection of work from the week’s Winter Arts Festival will be displayed through Feb. 24 at the Grand Marais Art Colony, 120 Third Ave. W. in Grand Marais. Phone 218-387-2737.
Exhibit hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Feb. 24.
Michelle Wegler contributed to this story.