Circles and rectangles in red, black and yellow expanded and contracted on three large screens. Kathy McTavish recited her poetry, as the words “imprint,” “entanglement,” “experiment” appeared and vanished behind her in the Fitger’s Spirit of the North Theater.

After the presentation, McTavish talked about her background in abstract art, classical music, mathematical ecology, software development — and how all of it fits together.

“Mathematics is a breathing, human art,” she said.

Composer and media artist Kathy McTavish. (2017 file / News Tribune)
Composer and media artist Kathy McTavish. (2017 file / News Tribune)

The Duluth composer and media artist was one of last weekend’s presenters during the 32nd annual Lake Superior Design Retreat. Along with a puzzle box challenge, an antique stoves tour, LSDR featured talks from escape room engineers, a chef, a blacksmith and Frank Ching, who wrote “the bible of illustrative construction drawings,” said Cheryl Fosdick, principal of CF Design in Duluth and LSDR board member.

While many come from the Twin Cities, there’s a steady involvement from Northlanders on stage and behind the scenes.

Fosdick and Tiersa Wodash of Brick and Mortar LLC pitch in on the planning end. Past presenters include former Duluth poet laureate Ellie Schoenfeld; multidisciplinary artist Jonathan Thunder; Locally Laid’s Lucie Amundsen; Richard Taylor of The Fractals.

You don’t have to be a creative professional to engage in this retreat, it’s open to anyone interested in design, said Mary-Margaret Zindren, executive vice president of AIA Minnesota.

Cheryl Fosdick of Duluth works on a puzzle Saturday during a mystery night puzzle box challenge hosted by Trapped Puzzle Rooms during the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects Lake Superior Design Retreat at the Boat Club Restaurant in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
Cheryl Fosdick of Duluth works on a puzzle Saturday during a mystery night puzzle box challenge hosted by Trapped Puzzle Rooms during the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects Lake Superior Design Retreat at the Boat Club Restaurant in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)

The two-day design conference is sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota, but it’s about much more than that — and it always has been.

It began in the late ’80s with about 50 people who wanted to gather and hear from other creative professionals, said LSDR staff liaison Deanna Christiansen, who has been involved with the retreat since its inception.

Early presenters were Northland drama troupe Colder by the Lake, an arctic expeditioner and a space station designer from NASA. And that diversity is steady. “We invite five or six seemingly unrelated people, and the only thing they have in common is some sense of passion for what they do,” Fosdick said.

Credits from the retreat can be applied toward maintaining architectural license, so there are many from the profession, but the event is not about performance and competition or the “daily professional routine.”

Pens, notepads and paper fill the table as a group tries to break a code Saturday during a mystery night puzzle box challenge hosted by Trapped Puzzle Rooms during the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects Lake Superior Design Retreat at the Boat Club Restaurant in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
Pens, notepads and paper fill the table as a group tries to break a code Saturday during a mystery night puzzle box challenge hosted by Trapped Puzzle Rooms during the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects Lake Superior Design Retreat at the Boat Club Restaurant in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)

It’s intended to “stretch our thinking,” said Linn Bjornrud, architect and planning committee co-chair. Bjornrud said the weekend offers a low-key space for networking and learning.

It’s for curious souls with a passion about something, Fosdick said.

LSDR has always been held at Fitger’s, and last weekend, some attendees sat in the theater aisles because there were no empty seats.

The American Institute of Architects is pushing for more community planning on the retreat agenda, and if this grows past 130, it may need to migrate to another location, Fosdick said.

What’s refreshing about this is it comes during a low-energy time of year.

“We’re cold, we’re tired, we’re all crunching to get our spring projects ready to go," Fosdick said. "You come away from this, as a person who does what I do, feeling like you can do anything.”