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Plein air artist brings joy (and panic) to mother

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Bean created his own “art barge” out of a mini-pontoon boat to traverse the waterways and discover new inspiration. “Mighty Toon,” the art barge, was made by Northern Exposure Manufacturing in Hermantown.2 / 6
Retired Hermantown teacher Diane Bean stands beside a painting by her son, Scott Bean. He was unaware that he had painted her meditation spot along Congdon (Tischer) Creek. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 6
“Forest Road,” an oil painting by Scott Bean. (Photo submitted)4 / 6
Duluth native Scott Bean (Photo submitted) 5 / 6
Scott Bean’s beloved basset hound mix, Jilly, is often seen riding shotgun on Scott’s art barge and art cart. 6 / 6

Retired Hermantown teacher and speech coach Diane Bean starts most mornings with a cup of coffee. Below her apartment, in the Pines Retirement and Assisted Living Facility, is Congdon Park with Tischer Creek rolling on its way to Lake Superior. Her special coffee-drinking place is near a bay window where she can watch the sunrise over the lake.

On the wall behind her is a painting by her son, Scott Bean. "Oh Scott," she reportedly said upon first seeing the painting. "You've painted my special meditation spot!"

Diane said she loved the painting because after Scott graduated from Duluth Central High School in 1968, the family moved to a house near Congdon Creek. Diane used to walk to a special area along the creek that she called her meditation spot.

Diane gestured toward the painting and said, "This is the spot where I would just go sit and come down from a rough day."

But by the time Scott created the painting, he was already a grown man living and teaching art in Minneapolis. He returned to the Northland for summer visits. He had no way of knowing that was her special spot.

"So it was kind of serendipitous," Diane said. "It's one of those places I have very happy memories of."

Diane's apartment is filled with artwork by her son and other friends. "Both my son and his wife are Plein Air artists," she said. Plein Air is a French term meaning "open air."

By the time Scott started kindergarten at Lowell Elementary in Duluth Heights, he was a budding artist.

"From the time he was a little boy, I knew he was an artist," she said.

And she encouraged him.

"I'm not an artist myself. I'm an art appreciator," Diane said. As the mother of five she discouraged coloring books, preferring to give her children big newsprint sheets and all different types of media, paint brushes and crayons.

"He had a sense of color right off the bat," she said. And while many parents worry that children may be getting into mischief if they become quiet, Diane did not worry.

"I knew that he was someplace drawing," she said.

"There is art in the family; they just didn't get it from me," said Diane, whose late husband, Bob Bean, was a Duluth engineer. "They got a love of art from me."

While neither of Scott's parents was a visual artist, Diane said that both she and Bob had practicing artists in their families.

Duluth Central High School art teacher Nate Dindler told her, regarding Scott, "'Buy him all the art supplies and night school art classes he wants,'" she said.

The family purchased a cabin on the Whiteface Reservoir north of Duluth in 1967, when Scott was 17. After graduating from Central, Scott attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, graduating in 1972.

Every year Scott visits the family cabin. He has done paintings of the Whiteface Reservoir for 40 years. His work depicts the vivid colors, rippling waters and remarkable foliage native to the area.

"I have been painting from life, and specifically the Minnesota landscape, since graduating from art school in 1972," he said in a prepared statement. "My work is about finding the essential beauty in the natural forms around me and representing them in paintings."

Scott is now 66 and has difficulty walking. His family help customized an "art cart," a golf cart rigged to serve as a mobile studio.

A couple of summers ago his painting activities were anything but relaxing or meditative for his mother. Knowing there were additional vistas to be captured from beyond the shore, Scott reconditioned a paddle boat to make an "art barge."

"They made a scary, rickety one that was dangerous," Diane said. "That thing couldn't fight the wind. I said, 'You have to do something Scott! I'm having a heart attack worrying about you out on the lake."

"My mother was convinced it was going to sink," Scott said by phone. "It never did. It did leak a little bit."

Spurred on partly by his mother's panic, he applied for and received a 2015 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which he used to build a safer pontoon art barge. The barge, dubbed the "Mighty Toon," was made by Northern Exposure Manufacturing in Hermantown. The Plein Air artist used the Mighty Toon to successfully fulfill the grant's requirement of creating 48 paintings of the Whiteface Reservoir in 2015.

"Just completely at peace, relaxed. It's perfect, it's like fishing," Scott said of painting on his art barge.

A collection of oil and watercolor paintings will be on exhibit March 3-26 at the First Stage Art Gallery at the Lyric Center for the Arts, 510 Chestnut St., Virginia, Minn. The public is invited to the exhibit's opening reception on March 5 from noon to 3:30 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information visit

If you go

WHO: Scott Bean

What: Opening reception, "Whiteface Series 2015"

WHEN: Noon to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 5

WHERE: First Stage Art Gallery at the Lyric Center for the Arts, 510 Chestnut St., Virginia, Minn.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at