'It's Christmas Once Again' at Owatonna Arts Center

The Owatonna Arts Center is looking to the past, while also nodding toward a colorful future, with this year’s holiday display, “It’s Christmas Once Again.”

The annual December exhibition in the OAC is “our gift to the community,” said Silvan Durben, the OAC’s creative director. “Christmas is about that momentary joy that travels through our hearts and lives with us forever.”

The OAC gallery features Teddy bears, dolls, and a train, among other “things from the past that parents and grandparents may reminisce about seeing,” Durben said. “If you’re hectically preparing for your own Christmas, come to the (OAC), look around, and enjoy some time taking in the season.”

The Bradley dolls — famous for big eyes, big hair, and big hats — are on loan from the Mary Butler Fraser family, as her eldest daughter received Bradley dolls as presents growing up each birthday and Christmas from a pair of great aunts, she said. “There must be 20-25 of them.”

“They’ve been packed up in a closet,” never before displayed all together, and this is almost-certainly the only time they’ll be exhibited in Owatonna, Butler Fraser said. Her daughter, who resides in Florida, now has a 5-year-old of her own, so at the end of December, the dolls are heading south to the “Sunshine State.”

However, Butler Fraser’s daughter and granddaughter will be in Minnesota this month, so they’ll also be able to view the dolls at the OAC, she said. In fact, Butler Fraser is celebrating her family Christmas at the OAC.

“I have seven siblings, and we all have kids, so we needed a big place,” and the OAC is “always beautifully-decorated for Christmas,” she said. “My daughter has never seen all (of the dolls) together at one time.”

But, of course, it’s not just Butler Fraser’s own family who will be enchanted by the dolls.

“Little girls will love seeing them,” she said. “They’re all different sizes, and really pretty.”

The main board room will once again be decorated in a traditional manner, including a tree festooned with instrument ornaments and lights, Durben said. “We’re also doing a table setting” featuring a heavy, linen tablecloth not previously displayed.

“Instead of the traditional red and green,” the OAC is complementing that red tablecloth with turquoise, and it also boasts a “butterfly motif,” he said. “The holiday is about new life and new beginnings,” which butterflies symbolize.

The table’s centerpiece features fabric flowers, he said. Furthermore, “we have some lovely, handmade sheep on the table.”

In the atrium is a tree decorated with “bright, festive, party colors of the holiday,” Durben said. “I like big ornaments, because our trees are oversized,” and the ornaments for the atrium tree are paint-pours by Beth DeCoux.

“It’s a big tree,” which is why DeCoux created 46 different 8-by-8 block ornaments to decorate it, she said. “My entire kitchen and living room were covered in ornaments for like three days.”

Still, “it was fun to do,” as the ornaments have a “neat flower pattern” on them with a “‘70s vibe,” she said. “They were poured over the bottom of water bottles.”

In DeCoux’s paint pouring technique, she mixes acrylic paint with a pouring medium that acts as a polymer, which allows the paint to stretch, she said. She often adds a lubricant, like silicone, “to help the paint move through layers,” and the entire process is “very organic.”

She was actually leading a paint-pouring class at the OAC this fall when Durben wandered in and mentioned the creations might make excellent ornaments, she said. He noted they’d be “a perfect size for the tree,” and he then “picked out some bright colors.”

“Dancing through (that atrium) tree are ribbons tying it all together,” Durben said. “It looks like confetti showering down from the sky.”

DeCoux actually assisted with last year’s OAC holiday display, as well, painting the skins of a colorful reindeer, and she’s long been a devotee of the OAC’s various annual Christmas decorations, she said. “Even when I lived in the Twin Cities, I would come down every year to see what Silvan had done with it.”

Throughout the OAC this month are a variety of winter and Christmas paintings, as well, Durben said. Among the pieces are Adolf Dehn’s “Waiting for the Mail” and Phillip Barrager’s “The Christmas Play.”

The OAC’s Christmas exhibit, which officially opened Sunday, will be on display through the end of the month.

“Christmas is really a time for sharing the memories we all create,” Durben said. “Here at the arts center, we create through visuals.”

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.