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Duluth painter mixes western, whimsical in above-the-garage studio

“Candy-colored pink feels really fresh to me,” Lori Franklin said, waving her loaded paintbrush like a wand. Colorful cowgirl boots on her feet.

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Artist Lori Franklin works on a commissioned piece in her studio above the garage Monday morning, Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Chandeliers hang from light fixtures and animal horns adorn the walls in Lori Franklin’s studio.

This mix of glam and western is abundant in the Duluth artist’s space as well as her paintings of bighorn sheep, horses, buffalo and birds in lively blues, lime greens and poppy purples.

“Candy-colored pink feels really fresh to me,” Franklin said, waving her loaded paintbrush like a wand. Colorful cowgirl boots on her feet.

The mixed-media artist turned painter has always had a knack for the creative. “I wanted to do art from the time I was a little kid.

“I didn’t want to play with Barbies. I wanted to play with crayons,” she recalled.

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Lori Franklin works on a commissioned piece in her loft-above-the-garage studio Monday morning, Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

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THE ARTIST

The way Franklin paints “requires a lot of pondering,” she said.

Instead of realism, she aims for playfulness and whimsical storytelling through nature images.

A smiling fox on its hind legs, fluttering hummingbirds, forget-me-nots, flamingos and butterflies.

“I’ve never been able to paint sad things,” Franklin said.

She has used darker and deeper colors, but steers clear of creating cerebral work.

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“I can’t help it. If I try to do something that’s more serious or something that is going to make you think really deep thoughts, it just doesn’t work.

“My work is happy, joyful work that incorporates nature in some form,” she said.

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Franklin used to focus on mixed media work — collages and some jewelry that she’d embed with bits of arts and resin.

Before the pandemic, Franklin sold her work on clothing, mugs and totes. “I had a lot of materials up here and very little space,” she recalled.

Producing those pieces and handling the marketing began to take from her studio time.

After a yearlong break, Franklin started to focus on acrylic painting. “It’s what I love most. It’s what makes time fly. … That’s a really good indication of what you’re passionate about,” she said.

She detached and decluttered and remodeled, and now her studio is simply for creating and socializing.

THE SPACE

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Lori Franklin smiles as she works on a painting in her Duluth studio Monday morning, Nov. 29, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

What’s now Franklin’s studio was first built as a bonus room above the garage 20 years ago, intended for her sons to use if they’d decided to play instruments.

It was converted into her studio about 10 years ago, when she sorely needed a spot of her own to create.

“I was surrounded by male energy for so long — my husband and two boys — I needed a little space that was feminine, so I hung some sparkly things in it and painted it pink,” she recalled.

Since then, it’s evolved into a clean, decluttered spot with white walls, rugs, antiques and some glamor.

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Artist Lori Franklin laughs as she talks about entertaining in her loft-above-the-garage studio Monday morning, Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Franklin moved to Minnesota when she was 11. She and her sisters, albeit one, were born in Montana, which is the source of the “Western touch” in her pieces.

There’s an antique set of encyclopedias and an original small letter press set from North Dakota; ivory-colored deer figurines with real pieces of driftwood inserted as antlers; a tall wooden chest that’s “like a little treasure box.”

Near a shelved horseshoe sticks a magnet of a smiling girl holding a lasso.

An old-timey guestbook and a vintage brown chair that belonged to her mother-in-law rest in the same area as an antique bar with a copper top. The latter holds paints, but Franklin can insert a stopper so it can hold ice when she’s entertaining.

“I love mixing vintage with modern,” Franklin said.

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Paints and jars full of brushes sit ready to be used at the Duluth studio of Lori Franklin on Monday morning, Nov. 29, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Next to her easel, a high drafting table is her main workspace near a tub of brushes and paints.

Her nature photographs and paintings line the walls along with antique images of birds.

She framed a book titled, “The Sin of Fretting.” “I just like what it said,” Franklin added.

For shelving, Franklin uses old wooden ski poles, part of her husband’s large collection.

And her sitting area, the closest near the window overlooking Magney-Snively Park, is the studio’s most recent upgrade. “I wanted something that was neutral. I wanted my art to be the focus,” she said.

Copies of “The Artist’s Way,” “How to Draw Figures in Action” and “Happier than God” rest on a bookshelf near a plate of pinecones, a trio of crowned bird figurines and a sign: “You don’t have to be rich to sparkle.”

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Artist Lori Franklin stands outside of her studio Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Under her large picture window are reminders of where she’s been and where she came from.

A tiny yellow Mickey Mouse figurine, a reminder of Franklin’s first ambition to become a Disney artist.

Powdered pigments from Italy and paints from Ireland, and photos of her sisters and her parents.

Her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and passed away eight years ago.

Of her father, she said, he “taught us what devotion is by example, taking care of her at home through all the hard stuff,” she recalled.

Taking stock of that time period, Franklin lists the unexpected gifts. Her son became a nurse, her sister a chaplain. Franklin herself worked for two years at Touching Hearts at Home.

“I missed caring for her,” Franklin said of her mother. “That was helpful for me in managing grief. Helping someone else, you’re doing something good.”

That’s what Franklin feels about her art, a conduit that could help others, one that helps her.

“I love to paint joyful stuff. It's what I feel when I’m painting it,” she said.

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Artist Lori Franklin is surrounded by some of her artwork as she reloads paint to her brush while working on a commission Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

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Lori Franklin mixes paint for a piece she is working on Nov. 29, 2021, in Duluth. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Coming up: Don Solwold is an Esko buffalo farmer. Duluth artist Lori Franklin is among his five daughters who pitch in on the 100 acres. Read about Solwold’s buffalo farm in the Dec. 11 edition of the News Tribune.

Artist Spaces is a 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

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. Dec. 6 to clarify that Lori Franklin is a former Touching Hearts at Home employee.

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