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Lake Superior Watercolor Society

A prestigious watercolor society will open its doors next month and offer membership to a select few.

The membership comes with a guarantee of meetings with fellow watercolorists every month from September through May, a chance to show work in progress for critiques by peers, inspiration from others' work and a chance to exhibit once a year in art centers throughout the region.

Interested?

Then gather together three quality slides of recent paintings, a short statement about yourself and your work, and apply.

One caution -- the Lake Superior Watercolor Society is discriminating about whom it invites into its midst.

"We want people with developed skills," said Wendy Rouse, president. "We're looking more for artists who are established a little bit."

That requirement is at the base of this organization that was founded more than 20 years ago by two well-established watercolorists in the Twin Ports -- Cheng Kee Chee, and John Salminen -- said Joyce Gow, 76, who is a charter member of the watercolor society.

"It was a kind of a work-study program back then," she said. "We had 12 members and, at the time, we always showed at the Tweed. Mr. Chee was encouraging others to get involved with watercolors, to study, compete and improve. My primary interest was to acquire enough skills so I could compete on a national level, because I didn't have a degree in art. I was just a housewife that started painting."

Gow and Jan Hartley, who has been a member of the Lake Superior Watercolor Society for about 20 years, both said the group has helped them grow.

Gow, for example, did make her goal of competing on a national level. Over the years, she has exhibited in more than 16 national juried exhibitions, where she won awards.

The critiques she received at meetings were a key to her development as a painter, she said.

Hartley, who has been a member since 1981, said that Salminen, Chee and watercolorist David Morgenstern "would really zero in on what you needed to do. You had to be there every month, and you had to bring a painting. It really forced you to keep working. Then you had to present your painting to the group. It was a great way to learn -- to have more experienced eyes look at the image and say, 'If you did this ....' It was wonderful. It was like going to school."

That still holds true for the younger members of the Watercolor Society. There are more members now, 33 in all, although the group hopes to admit seven new members this year to bring the total to 40.

Everyone is encouraged to bring in new work to the monthly meetings, and on this day, there were a number of wonderful works to enjoy.

Everything from winter scenes to portraits were propped up on tables as the members went through them, exclaiming, commenting, asking questions about how an effect was made.

"I think I'm always inspired by my fellow artists," said Louise Lundin, who has been a member of the society for 12 years and lives in Hibbing. "We help each other by talking about our work."

Having the opportunity to show one's work in progress to a group of professionals is a great boon, Rouse said. "When I came back to Duluth, my aspiration was to be in the Watercolor Society," she said. "When they opened it up to new members, they let me in. My biggest goal was to have a painting to bring to the group at every meeting. That's a big part of what we do -- we show each other our paintings. Especially when you're starting out, it's just great."

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It is this inspiration and learning that has kept members coming back year after year, they said.

They're also looking forward to welcoming new blood.

"It breathes new life into the organization," Hartley said.

Certainly the years she has spent with the society have helped her grow as an artist, Rouse said. "It's a good learning tool," she said. "I think it stretches us."

To find out more about how to become a member, call 721-3744. The deadline to submit slides is April 10, and new members will be informed of the juried results in May.

Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer arts and entertainment editor and can be reached by e-mail at joan.farnam@duluth.com or by phone at 723-1207.

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