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Chroniclers: Craig Blacklock and Karen Sunderman to receive major awards from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council

Craig Blacklock has available three different limited edition versions of his book. Photo courtesy of Craig Blacklock1 / 5
TV producer and host Karen Sunderman (right) stands with (from left) Ryan Dermody, Steve Ash and Jesse Dermody. The Dermodys are the musical duo The Brothers Burn Mountain. Ash is a video journalist for WDSE/WRPT. Photo by Ryan Dermody2 / 5
Craig Blacklock's new project included the use of a drone for the first time in his career. Photo courtesy of Blacklock3 / 5
Karen Sunderman4 / 5
Craig Blacklock spent more than two years photographing the St. Croix region for his most recent book. He will receive the George Morrison Artist Award at an upcoming ceremony by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council Photo courtesy of Blacklock. 5 / 5

He's an internationally respected nature photographer who spent more than two years covering the St. Croix River area for his latest limited edition collection. She's a documentarian and host with an eye for the regional creative community, whose work appears on public television.

Both have been selected for top honors by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council — which covers seven counties in northern Minnesota.

Craig Blacklock is this year's winner of the George Morrison Artist Award; Karen Sunderman gets the Maddie Simon's Advocate Award. They were selected by a five-person committee that considered about 50 nominees.

The award ceremony is May 23 at WDSE/WRPT.

Here's what both have been up to:

'St. Croix & Namekagon Rivers: The Enduring Gift'

Craig Blacklock, internationally known for his wilderness photography, was caught in a sauna fire in 2014 that resulted in second and third degree burns on his body and skin grafts on his hands. While he was recovering, Blacklock had to shelve a project photographing his familiar subject Lake Superior because the cold water was going to be painful on his hands, he said.

When it was suggested he provide his signature coverage of the warmer St. Croix River area, he and his wife and daughter paddled a section as a trial run.

"I was blown away by how much variety there was to the river," Blacklock said in a phone interview. "Immediately I said yes. There is enough to make a book around."

"St. Croix & Namekagon Rivers: The Enduring Gift" is a new collection of images, and the release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. There are three limited editions of the book: Collector's, Museum and Signature. The most grand is 17-by-21 inches, includes six original prints and is signed by former Vice President Walter Mondale, who co-sponsored the act.

Blacklock spent his time paddling and sometimes camping, capturing scenic vistas with a low moon, or a sunrise below Raspberry Landing, and close-up images of wildlife ranging from a river jeweling damselfly to a gray wolf. He learned that the area described by the St. Croix River Association as the state's No. 2 tourist destination — behind the Mall of America — can be very quiet on weekdays.

This was also Blacklock's first run with a drone. His friend, photographer Jon Smithers, handled the high-flying technology, while Blacklock art directed based on areas scouted on Google earth.

Mondale credits Blacklock with photographing "places of beauty, but also areas where his images can make a difference in highlighting threats and adding protection to the wild places he loves," he wrote in the book's foreword.

"Craig's luminous photographs of all aspects of our environment have really helped people think about the significance and beauty of nature in our region," said Drew Digby, executive director of the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. "It's a stunning example of what you can do with photography."

For his next project, Blacklock said he is going to return to "Lake Superior Images" — with the technology that wasn't available the first go-round, including a drone.

"It's almost a new medium," he said. "There are things that I could have dreamed about, but never envisioned getting a photo of. (Modern technology) expands what I'm dreaming about. Creativity gets flowing. You think of all sorts of new things you can do.

"I'm almost 64 years old, and I feel like I'm just getting started."

'MAKING IT UP NORTH'

This is what it's like to be Karen Sunderman, the host of the local PBS show "Making It Up North": one day, she's interviewing Emily and Joel Vikre of Vikre Distillery; another, she's out paddling with David Grandmaison of The Duluth Experience.

There are plans with Matthew Wagner, the dancer who is also prop master at Solve Entertainment, an escape room.

"People who know me best know that I'm curious about everything," said Sunderman, who has also worked on WDSE/WRPT's "Venture North" and "The PlayList." "When I'm asking questions about learning the craft — what does it take to learn something really well — it's because I want to learn something really well."

Where "The PlayList" centered on regional artists, the newer show — which launched at the start of 2018, has allowed Sunderman and her longtime TV-making partner Steve Ash to broaden the subject to include Eric Faust of Duluth Coffee Co. and Nyanyika Banda of the relatively new downtown restaurant Martha's Daughter. It has included the Iron Range Makerspace, the Music Resource Center, and Karen McTavish, the widely-known quilter Sunderman now had an excuse to meet.

"Creative makers, broadly" Sunderman called them, and added, "We could include more food, more craft, more beverages. The whole creative economy of what is bubbling up and making our region and giving it new life."

Digby described Sunderman's shows as being revolutionary in showing off the regional creative communities.

"Her ability to search out new talent and highlight their contributions makes everybody understand the importance of art and creativity in our region," he said.

Sunderman and Ash travel the region, oftentimes chasing tips from viewers.

"My life as a storyteller has really been shaped by my partnership with Steve," she said. "I throw him ideas, and he gives me a 'Hmmph, well, if we do it this way ...' It's a back and forth. It's a collaboration in a true sense. It's awkward to be singled out."

An upcoming episode will feature former Duluthians who have left, then returned with an idea.

"All these people are really inspiring people who give you that kick in the rear to say, 'Ok, make it happen,'" she said.

WATCH IT

What: "Making it Up North"

When: 5:30 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Thursdays

Where: PBS

LOOK AT IT

Title: "St. Croix & Namekagon Rivers: The Enduring Gift"

Photographer: Craig Blacklock

Where: www.stcroixphotography.com

IF YOU GO

What: Arrowhead Arts Awards by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council

When: 5-7 p.m. May 23

Where: WDSE/WRPT, 632 Niagara Ct., Duluth

Tickets: Free, but space is limited. Go to https://20thannualarrowheadartsawards.eventbrite.com

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