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An artist of many layers: Natalie Salminen Rude creates encaustic paintings in her Woodland studio

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Natalie Salminen Rude, 41, works on a floral-themed encaustic in her studio for Popol Vuh, a new restaurant in northeast Minneapolis. At top is a portrait of her grandmother, Thyra Salminen, who was the first person to really encourage her as an artist. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 9
The gallery at Studio Haiku features works by both Natalie Salminen Rude and her husband, Josh Rude, who works in wood. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 9
Old plat maps form part of an art installation Natalie Salminen Rude is currently working on. When completed, the work will be placed in the Duluth City Hall. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 9
Artist Natalie Salminen Rude dips special hake (pronounced HAH-kay) brushes into the warm encaustic medium as she works on a project for a restaurant. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 9
This two-part encaustic by Natalie Salminen Rude is titled "The Working Mother" and explores the tensions and divisions that working mothers must navigate when working outside the home. The encaustic medium is a mix of beeswax, tree sap and pigment. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com6 / 9
Using a torch, Natalie Salminen Rude blends colors on a large panel she's working on for a restaurant in Minneapolis. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com7 / 9
Natalie Salminen Rude glides a hake brush dipped in colorful encaustic medium across a large encaustic she's working on in her studio. The medium is made of melted beeswax and tree sap. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com8 / 9
A painting of Natalie Salminen Rude's grandmother, Thyra Salminen, who inspires her work, hangs on a wall in the Studio Haiku. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com9 / 9

Walk into Studio Haiku to water scenes with mauve skylines, dreamlike canvases with teals, fuschia and yellows. And haiku, paired with digital photography.

They're the works of Natalie Salminen Rude, who has been at 2311 Woodland Ave. for two years.

Also among the flood of natural light and large windows are woodworks by her husband, Josh Rude — an original paddle, long and rich brown vases dotted with colorful greenery.

The couple remodeled for a year before she moved in to her now part gallery, part workspace.

Along one wall floated painted prints of flowers, native grasses, water. On another wall are images of a rosary on a rearview mirror, grain silos, wax plant flowers — each with an original haiku by Salminen Rude.

just two of her gifts

wave notes of tranquility

transcendental tides

 

piles of laundry

I can't be faithful to you

lilac love affair

"Poetry feeds me in a way that nothing else does," she said. Haiku, made up of 17 syllables, are especially a dear form of expression — so much so, she named her space after it.

"They minister to me now in this day and age where we're so distracted and rushed and busy, and our time is clamored by so many outside forces.

"Writing haiku is an opportunity to sit with something and give it some time and presence, and that is good for us to be in that space where we can contemplate."

Salminen Rude, 41, started liking her art in high school, but it took another 12 years or more to accept her gift, she said. She has been doing art full-time since 2004, when she "sort of accepted my path."

As an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Salminen Rude stood out as someone eager to trust those around her as part of her investment in herself, said Tim Cleary, professor of sculpture and chair of the Visual Arts Department.

"She was also genuinely driven by the discoveries she was making through her artwork," he added by email.

What hasn't changed about her stands out to Cleary.

"Curiosity, sincerity and risk-taking are all still present and vibrant in her work. I would also say that there is increasingly present a greater sense of celebration."

Cleary introduced Salminen Rude to encaustic (Greek for "burnt in") painting. It's a process of mixing colored pigment with beeswax and resin, then fusing the painted layers on a surface with a blowtorch or an iron.

For her latest commission, for Minneapolis restaurant Popol Vuh, Salminen Rude turned pancake griddles to just under 200 degrees. Inside the griddles sat aluminum tins holding encaustic medium in cool greens, blues and warm reds and oranges. They take about an hour to heat up, she said.

On a nearby wooden shelf were concentrated pigment colors in blocks of yellow, green and tangerine. She'll break bits off and add that to beeswax and resin to make her palette.

"If I want a certain type of green, I'll end up making 12," she said with a smile.

Salminen Rude stirred the paint tins with special hake brushes made with natural hair that won't melt. On a large, wooden slab, she painted a muted minty green that, after a few seconds, looked like fast-drying nail polish.

"See how the brush starts to get cold," she said before fusing the paint to the wood with a blowtorch. "You can use the flame as its own tool. ... It can really act like a paintbrush."

The paint swirled, marbled, and you could vaguely see the pink layer below it. A lot of encaustic work is excavation, she said. You paint layers and then dig out what's underneath.

After the blowtorch, the paint sets quickly, and it lasts a very long time.

"Beeswax is nature's preservative," she said.

The painting so far had 10-12 dozen layers, she said, and it looked like a glazed donut.

It was smooth to the touch, and Salminen Rude said she doesn't blame people for wanting to touch her work. But when she used to do art festivals, people would do more than trace her paintings with their hands. "I'd get home, and there'd be these little fingernail marks."

So, she ended up making a smaller painting that people could engage with, she said.

She has burned herself before.

"This is smoking because earlier I accidentally dropped it in a vat of wax," she said of her blowtorch.

Many encaustic painters are abstract artists because the craft lends itself to that. Her work has structure, and her ideas just arrive, she said.

Encausting painting informs her oil work, and vice versa.

With oil painting, "I have to take a deeper journey, and that's hard."

Toward the back of Studio Haiku, there's a black shou sugi ban wall with a charred finish.

Along with oil paintings, Salminen Rude has an installation made up of lights and plat maps stretched across what looks like large wooden embroidery hoops.

There are oil paints, screws, a set of chisels on a nearby table. A stack of books by Mary Oliver, Wenden Berry, Makoto Fujimura. Large pieces lean on the floor, some covered in fabrics with trees, rabbits.

What greets you is a large painting of her grandmother Thyra Salminen, the artist's "first encourager."

"She saw something in me before I saw this in myself, and she said 'You will do this.' Now to have her in my studio, I just love it," Salminen Rude said.

See her work:

• Bent Paddle

• Lizzard's Art Gallery & Framing

• Studio Haiku

What: Studio Haiku

Where: 2311 Woodland Ave.

When: Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays

Online: www.studiohaiku.design

Artist spaces

ARTIST SPACES is a monthly series featuring artists and where they live or work. If you are an artist or know an artist with a space worth showcasing, send your info to Melinda Lavine at mlavine@duluthnews.com.

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346
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