Since moving into the new Shelter studio at International Market Square a little over a year ago, we’ve had the pleasure of displaying the work of local makers in our space, currently including pieces from local Northfield artist Wendell Arneson. Arneson, a longtime friend and mentor of Kurt Gough, one of Shelter’s founders, has led a career as a painter, mixed media artist, grade school teacher and collegiate Professor Emeritus of Art.
Before Arneson’s gallery feature at the Shelter studio concludes on November 1st and we welcome new artwork into our space on November 30th, we wanted the opportunity to more deeply explore the artist’s creative roots, his experiences as both a teacher and maker and the evolution of his design process over time. Read on for highlights from the interview between Wendell Arneson and Kurt Gough.
Discovering the artist within
Arneson’s artistic journey began without influential art teachers during his early years, unlike Kurt, who had the guidance of several mentors, especially in high school. However, Arneson’s love for art was sparked, oddly enough, by a childhood fascination with cowboys. A memorable turning point occurred for Arneson when a pony kicked him, leading him to decide, “artist it is!” This moment, along with his continued captivation by the John Gnagey TV show, “Learn to Draw” laid the early foundation for Arneson’s artistic interests and what was to become a career shaped by this passion.
The intersection of art and teaching
Although Arneson knew he wanted to pursue art, he initially had uncertainties about what his career in the field would look like. He attended Luther College and, after graduation, sought a teaching job due to a shortage of art teachers in his town. His first teaching position posed challenges around a lack of resources and support for art curriculum, an all too familiar struggle for many educators. Despite this, teaching quickly became a valuable avenue for Arneson to gain experience and avoid a nationwide draft while still nurturing his genuine passion for art and working with kids. Over the course of eight years as a public school educator, Arneson honed his already strong communication skills and developed curriculum-building expertise that would shape his future as an artist.
A journey through art forms
As time went on, Arneson’s artistic journey took a turn during a brief sabbatical from teaching. Wanting to challenge himself as both a teacher and artist, he chose to head to Bowling Green State University in Ohio. It was there, teaching undergraduate art courses, that Arneson began to explore watercolor painting which subsequently led to experimentation with oil and other mediums.
The artistic process
Arneson’s artistic process has continued to evolve over time, reflecting his personal and emotional growth. His work shifted from watercolor to oil and eventually landed on collage and mixed media which we primarily see in his work today. Through collage, Arneson creates a conversation between structurally composed elements and unexpected possibilities that emerge. His process is a dance between intention and chance, allowing for persistent evolution. By constantly challenging himself and shifting gears, Arneson stays motivated and excited about his craft, often changing the scale of his artwork or exploring new forms along the way.
Photos from Kurt’s visit to Wendell’s art studio
Architectural influences and personal memory
Architectural references frequently appear in Arneson’s work, serving as a graphic representation of structure and space. These elements contrast with the organic flow found in nature, creating a tension that in his words feels “…both comfortable & wonderfully irritating.” The architectural influence in his art also extends to personal memories and experiences, such as photographs of abandoned farmhouses or reflections of his sister’s apartment. Arneson finds solace and inspiration in these memories, allowing him to delve into unique artistic spaces that hold personal meaning while still being visually engaging to outside admirers of his work.
Pieces from the “Intersection” series on display at the Shelter studio
Last chance to view Arneson’s work at Shelter, gallery concluding on November 1st
Wendell Arneson’s artistic journey is a story of the intertwining of teaching and art. His experiences as an educator and his dedication to nurturing students have played a pivotal role in shaping his artistic approach and work today. Through a willingness to embrace chance and ambiguity in his process, Arneson continues to create captivating works that explore the intersection of place, time, and memory.
Don’t miss a chance to view or purchase a piece from Wendell Arneson’s “Intersection” series on display at the Shelter studio through November 1st!
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