The importance of regional art
At a quarter after 7 p.m., the Winter Garden room of the Glensheen mansion was packed with about 50 people busy chattering amongst themselves. They gathered for the latest edition of “Chester Chats,” a series of live talks styled in the fashion of TED Talks, the seminars which encourage discussions about technology, entertainment and design.
At this session on Jan. 30, three speakers explored the topic of regional art by sharing their views on art in general, art created in this area, and the art housed in the mansion in which they had gathered.
Dan Hartman, interim director of the Congdon Historic Estate, introduced the first speaker, local artist and art instructor Sarah Brokke. He reminded the crowd that each of the speakers had only 10 minutes to speak. “So, hopefully you will find this interesting, and if you don’t find it interesting, it’s 10 minutes, so not bad,” joked Brokke.
Brokke shared a bit about her background and personal interest in art. She studied in several art epicenters such as Paris, and Florence, Italy, before returning to Duluth to teach.
“I love it here. I am constantly impressed by the lake and the people,” said Brokke “The lake is like an ever-changing canvas. There are constant shifts in color
After musing on the lake, Brokke shifted her focus to exploring the definition of “artist.” Brokke said that everyone has the potential to be an artist, as art is simply a form of human expression.
“And I know that some of you in here are thinking, ‘I can’t even draw a stick figure. Are you kidding me? I’m not an artist.’ I would say that if you are interested in drawing, I can teach you how to draw, if you can write your name,” said Brokke.
The key to good art, according to Brokke, is reflecting upon the world and one’s inner self.
“I would encourage you to just give yourself a moment of the day, to just reflect on the world around you, because that’s really what good artists do — just reflect on our experience,” said Brokke.
Anne Dugan, the Duluth Art Institute curator and interim director, spoke next about regional art and artists. She started with sharing a pet peeve of hers, as an art curator.
“When I’m at an art opening, I sometimes hear ‘Oh, this feels just like New York’ and it drives me absolutely bonkers because we’re not New York, we’re not Austin, we’re not Portland. We are Duluth, and if we are going to create a successful regional arts scene, we need to get at what is Duluth, and celebrate that,” said Dugan.
An artist who Dugan says does just that is Scott Murphy. Murphy is best known in Duluth for his mural of books at the Duluth Public Library.
“It’s a fantastic community portrait, as the librarians helped him pick out the titles, and he made them larger than life,” said Dugan.
Lastly, professor Jennifer Webb of the University of Minnesota Duluth spoke about the Congdons’ connection to art and their art collection.
According to her research, Chester Congdon was a member of the Duluth Art Association, which formed in 1907, and ultimately became the Duluth Art Institute.
Webb says the Congdons knew the cultural and monetary value of artwork. “Chester and Clara were part of a vibrant community that was collecting art, and they collected in many ways. They have bro-chures from art dealers from all over the world including Paris, New York, Chicago. They also collected art when they traveled. But they also knew the value of investing in art from this region as well,” said Webb.
“Glensheen is a warm and wonderful space to share these chats with the community,” said Teri Glembin, one of the participants. “I loved the flow of the presenters — from artist to curator to historian.”
Webb showed an image of “Bruges,” a painting the Congdons collected from a local painter named David
Ericson. The painting
can be found in the Blue Room of the mansion.
“This is my message to you: to appreciate the artists and collect art, especially from the people in your neighborhood,” said Webb.
Chester Chats are scheduled for every other month. The next Chester Chat is scheduled for Wednesday, March 26. The topic is “Women in Leadership” and a “Happy Half-Hour” begins at 7 p.m., with the speakers starting promptly at 7:30 p.m.