Color and optimism the focus of spring/summer Healing Arts exhibition

Spring and summer are finally on the horizon, and a new season of Healing Arts at Owatonna Hospital will reflect that hopeful feeling with plenty of bright, vibrant color.

Featured artists for this exhibition are Bill Gillis, photography, Michelle Kaisersatt, clay, Gail Thompson, watercolor and mixed media, and Annie Young, painting. This exhibition is underwritten by the Owatonna Hospital Foundation, and the Owatonna Arts Center serves as the curator for this series.

Bill Gillis

Many of the photos by Bill Gillis are of Lake Superior’s north shore, but his collection for this exhibition also includes a mammoth photograph of the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, he said.

“It’s actually 10 panels put together as one,” said Gillis.

Gillis is a high-dynamic range photographer (HDR), which means he utilizes multiple exposures of the same image, then uses a software program to put them together, he said. HDR photography, which Gillis has been doing for a decade, is ideal for “color, detail, and contrast,” because “you get the real dark side and the real light side,” so “the color really pops.”

His goal with HDR photography is to “get the image to look like it does in the natural setting,” he said. “The color is there, you just have to bring it out.”

Patience is paramount to photography success in his nature pictures, Gillis said. For example, Lake Superior, he said, “is a body of water that changes its mood almost hourly, and it’s fascinating to spend a day sitting on shore just watching it.”

“The wind changes direction” often, and “the mood of it is infectious,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

Furthermore, the region boasts myriad rivers that swell during the summer to form “violent rapids,” he said. The color and manner of the Cascade River, in particular, “changes rather dramatically every several hours.”

He also shoots sunrises on the north shore, because “the color variation from day to day is unbelievable,” he said. “When they’re gone, they’re gone — one shot is all you get.”

His interest in photography dates all the way back to childhood, although “I got discouraged” because of the lackluster results with a box camera, he said. “You’d have to wait a week or longer for the photos to come back, and they were black as the Ace of Spades — nothing on them.”

Roughly 15 years ago, his wife suggested he find a hobby, so he “took the plunge,” buying a $1,500 camera and tripod, he said. “That was the beginning,” and he’s learned how to make his art most attractive for customers.

For example, his prints are on aluminum — not on paper and then attached to aluminum — fused onto the surface of the metal, he said. “That makes the color really stand out,” as does putting the photos with a black matte instead of a white matte.

“We’ve had three years of really good success,” including winning an award at last year’s Art on the Hills in Owatonna, he said. He met Silvan Durben, creative director of the arts center, while there, and Durben suggested he participate in Healing Arts.

“I picked pieces (for Healing Arts) that show the full range of what I do,” he said. “I like color, and there is a lot of color in these photos.”

Gail Thompson

For many years, Thompson worked almost exclusively in watercolor, but she’s gravitated toward some mixed media — including acrylic — the past couple years because “I’m curious,” she said. Examples of both will be part of the dozen or so pieces in this exhibition, where works are designed to “contribute to healing and create positive messages.”

Thompson, a graduate of Owatonna High School, has actually crafted several new paintings specifically for this display, and it’s “so exciting” to be part of a Healing Arts exhibition for the first time, she said. “I’m thrilled.”

Thompson was reared in Owatonna, her favorite subject in elementary school was art, and she always adored new boxes of crayons, she said. “I always felt weird,” like a “square peg in a round hole,” but in an artistic atmosphere, “I felt comfortable.”

In her first job out of college, she taught first grade at McKinley Elementary and incorporated art at every opportunity, but she then moved into the corporate world, which meant “a long drought” from art, she said. “Life gets in the way.”

Upon her retirement from Andersen Corporation, she moved back to Owatonna and picked up painting again, she said. In fact, Thompson, who is also a singer, was rehearsing for a concert at the Owatonna Arts Center, when she was impressed by several “gorgeous paintings” in the performance hall.

She enrolled in classes, and—because of years away from art—she’d “forgotten technique,” but “my square edges came off the peg” tout de suite, she said. “I was a round peg in a round hole again, and it was lovely.”

She’s exhibited at the Steele County Free Fair and been a featured “emerging artist” at the OAC’s Art on the Hills, she said. Indeed, while looking over some of her pieces for the latter last year, Durben suggested many would be felicitous fits for Healing Arts.

In retirement, “I can paint every day,” and she loves painting alongside her nieces and nephews when they visit her, she said. “I create things for the joy of the creative process, and I think if everybody got in touch with their creative sides, they would have a lot more joy in their lives.”

Thompson is partial to watercolor because of “the results,” she said. “The final effects are near and dear to my heart.”

She tends to work on a modest scale for a practical reason: most folks simply don’t have room in their homes for massive pieces of art. Furthermore, standard sizes make it easy to get prints made, as well.

“I love what watercolor does,” and the key to finding success in the medium for Thompson has been “letting go of that picture in my head,” because “that never comes out on paper,” she said. “That used to drive me crazy, because I viewed it as a failure,” but, in fact, that’s not failure at all.

“Just quit trying to control things,” she observed. “That’s probably a metaphor for life.”

“In general, I encourage people to revel in their creative activity, whatever it is,” she concluded. “The peace that comes from that is absolutely priceless.”

Michelle Kaisersatt

Though this will be Kaisersatt’s first time exhibiting for Healing Arts, “it’s a perfect fit for me,” especially considering the “soulfulness I put into each piece,” she said. Kaisersatt and her husband have both battled cancer in recent years, and she’s been through “a plethora of” other health challenges with family and friends, as well, so she understands how “integral” art can be to the healing process.

Art “has been my saving grace,” because in coping with emotions, her wheel, kiln, and carving have functioned as “a sanctuary,” she said. “I’m a person who focuses on soul-work,” whether it’s “a beautiful bowl” of food shared by a family, vases that hold flowers, or “vessels that express emotion.”

Kaisersatt aspired to be an artist in her childhood, and she ultimately opted to work in interior design, as well as a tenure with a graphic arts firm, she said. “I always immersed myself in places that were creative.”

In the mid-‘90s, she realized “I needed to know who I was and what drove me,” she said. Her husband discovered the Southern Minnesota Clay Center was offering classes, and not only did Kaisersatt attend the courses, she soon began teaching them to beginners.

“I loved (clay),” she said. “It really spoke to me, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”

She appreciates the fact that “if you are centered, you can throw, but if you’re not centered, you won’t be able to throw,” she said. “Your core needs to be aligned properly, or it’s impossible to center.”

When a tornado rampaged through St. Peter in 1998, it destroyed the Clay Center, but several wheels were salvaged, one of which ended up at Kaisersatt’s home, she said. “I kept throwing, throwing, and throwing.”

In 2011, she moved her studio back into town, where she does her throwing and carving, and she executes her glazing and firing back at home, she said. On days she’s centered, she’ll throw myriad pieces and stockpile them, while carving, on the other hand, requires days and days.

“I’m really a carver,” she said. “That’s my sweet spot,” and “it’s kind of a Zen thing for me.”

Kaisersatt actually carves clay away, like a marble carver, “to reveal the pieces of nature” in her creations, and while some of her projects are full of carving, others have very little, because “I let the clay do the talking and the creating,” she said. “Some shapes lend themselves more to being enveloped in carving, but others are so clean I don’t want to take away that clean shape.”

Annie Young

Though this will be Young’s first exhibit in Owatonna, she’s no stranger to Healing Arts exhibitions, she said. In fact, she’s doing another Healing Arts show later this spring in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

“I tend to think that art, generally, has healing properties,” since there’s “a healing engagement” between viewer and artist, and that’s especially true with Young’s “positive,” colorful, acrylic paintings, she said. “I paint with pretty vivid, bright colors,” and her pieces are definitely “tactile.”

The pieces in Owatonna Hospital are from Young’s “Reign of Color” series, which Durben saw and appreciated in Burnsville, she said. Her intent is to provide individuals with “a moment to step away” from their troubles and “be moved” by art, and Young’s “bright colors and simple images provide that.”

“Buttercup Ball,” for sure, is not to be missed at the hospital, as it’s “a very joyful painting” depicting daffodils — Young’s favorite flower — and grass, she said. Incredibly, the blades of grass actually feel like grass—glossy top surface and rough underneath—and the flowers boast a velvet feel.

Young is also a proud veteran who served in the United States Air Force and the Minnesota National Guard, and she’s currently interviewing veterans to develop art based on their stories, she said. In fact, Young is scheduled to exhibit her veteran-centric works at the OAC in 2019.

Though Young is blind, she views that disability as almost a non-factor in her art, she said. “I am an artist who happens to live with blindness,” but there have been plenty of other successful blind artists through the years, and “I want my artwork to stand on its own.”

She actually works backward, knowing before she even starts a piece what she wants the finished product to look like, she said. Young creates the topography — the surface — then determines composition, then moves to the tactile stage.

Though she hasn’t always painted, “I’ve always been a creative soul,” because “that’s how my mind works,” she said. “My mind never stops, and I feel very blessed.”

Her first art instructor after losing her sight was an immense help, as are her son, husband, and friends, whom “I know and trust,” she said. “If you have a desire to do something, you find a way to do it.”

There will be an opening reception for artists and members of the public Tuesday from 4:30-6 p.m. at the hospital. The pieces from Young, Gillis, Kaisersatt, and Thompson will be on display through the month of June.

Young, who has plenty of descriptions and details of inspiration for her paintings on her website (, plans to attend Tuesday’s opening reception, she said. She’ll bring artwork individuals can touch, as well as field questions about her work.

Kaisersatt will also be on hand Tuesday, and she encourages questions about her art from those in attendance, she said. “Each piece has a story […] so ask away.”