New season of Healing Arts to open officially with reception Tuesday

The summer/fall season of Healing Arts at Owatonna Hospital will feature many paintings from multiple artists, as well as photography, clay pieces, and the unique art of batik.

Healing Arts is a collaboration between Owatonna Hospital and the Owatonna Arts Center, and pieces in this exhibition will be on display through October. The community is invited to a reception to view the art and meet with artists on Tuesday from 4:30-6 p.m. at the hospital.

Sheri Grube

While many think of works in Healing Arts exhibitions as succoring patients and their loved ones, sometimes art heals the artist, too, and that’s certainly the case with Grube’s abstract paintings.

Painting “helps me focus better,” physically, mentally, and emotionally, said Grube, who contends with a neurological disorder called dystonia, which entails involuntary movements and postures in the body and limbs. Incredibly, her tremors can be attenuated simply by picking up a brush.

“It changes my concentration,” she said. “It’s weird what the brain will do.”

However, art as an outlet reaches even deeper for Grube, who has been painting for roughly 15 years.

“I grew up with an abusive alcoholic dad,” and “painting helped me with that,” as well, she said. “When I physically couldn’t say anything, I could put the words on canvas,” so painting was a method of “healing that part of myself.”

Her painting preference leans toward acrylic, because it dries quickly, she said. “With oil, you have to wait forever.”

Her tastes also run to abstraction, “thinking outside the box,” and the former mechanical designer tends to view the world “as if I were flying above it, like a bird or an astronaut,” she said. Grube also is “passionate about the environment,” and believes “we need to do more to save it.”

Among the highlights in this exhibition are all seven paintings from her “Marriage” series, which depict her own marriage, including coping with dystonia and having children, she said. These pieces have never before been displayed all in one place, and one of them—in particular—“sums up marriage the best: ‘It’s complicated.’”

Also in this exhibit is “Good Hair Day,” which stems from a walk in the woods, she said. “I saw this broken-down tree and a cool cloud behind it that looked like hair.”

A second, full tree is also in the scene, as Grube spends most of her days in-between those two extremes—hale and hearty juxtaposed with beleaguered and embattled—due to dystonia, but this painting, as well as the others in the series, are meant to provide “hope,” she said. “Even though you may have a chronic illness or be in constant pain, try something new, because you just might find you like it.”

Susan Hayes

Hayes, who was raised in Edina but now resides on a rural property in Montgomery with her husband, was first exposed to batik while studying art education in college, and “I liked it from the start,” she said. She’s stuck with the technique—which involves wax melted to liquid and painted on to fabric, wax then resisting applied dye, each color requiring a separate waxing and time to dry—for four decades, even though it’s a “long, tedious, and messy process,” because of the final result.

“You get a unique piece when you’re done, and no two are ever the same,” she said. The end product “is always a fun surprise.”

“Sometimes you get about what you expected, sometimes you’re surprised because it’s better than you expected, and sometimes you’re surprised because it’s worse than you expected,” she said with a laugh. “You never know until it’s all done.”

Batik also allows Hayes to feature bold colors, she said. “The colors are so gorgeous, intense, and bright in batik.”

Another attraction of batik for many is that “you can be intense and methodical with it, or be very free,” she said. “I’m definitely on the intense and methodical side.”

The dyes mix and run together, wax cracks, colors are layered, and “you run it between two newspapers” as the final step of batik, she said. “I always say that the medium does most of the work.”

In retirement, Hayes has been able to devote more of her time to batik, and she received a grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council four years ago, which “really got me going,” she said. “It was a good thing for me, and it kind of validated my pursuits.”

Hayes has exhibited in Northfield, Waseca, and Montgomery, as well as in Faribault’s hospital, but she still sees her art as an avocation, she said. “I just want to make pretty pictures, and if someone buys one, that’s wonderful.”

Hayes finds inspiration from nature walking about her country property, as well as from “file resources,” she said. “I have pictures from magazines and newspapers I’ve cut out,” as well as “photos of places I’ve been.”

Many of the pieces in this exhibition have a Minnesota theme, such as a loon or the Split Rock Lighthouse, Hayes said. “If you’re from Minnesota, you’ll recognize them.”

Others feature elephants, a favorite muse, she said. Hayes actually won a merit award in St. Peter recently for an elephant piece.

Julie Bronson

Though “I’ve always had a camera in my hand,” Bronson’s photos were mostly known only to her, that is until the internet made it possible to share pictures with the world, she said. After posting a few images on Flickr and receiving positive feedback, she realized, “Maybe I’m not the only one who cares about this.”

The balance of photos in this exhibition are of abandoned barns and homes, as well as other features “you find on old farms,” she said. She’s also begun using windows to frame her images, which lend a “really cool” effect.

Bronson, who resides south of Albert Lea roughly one mile north of the Iowa border, has traveled as far as 60 miles for photos, but the majority of her adventures occur within 30-40 miles of her home, and she is often joined by a friend for these sessions, she said. “There are so many” vacated farms and homes that she has no need to drive farther.

“What intrigues me so much is the architecture, how much thought and care went into the buildings,” she said. Modern homes and barns “all look alike,” but “there’s so much detail in older houses.”

In fact, “it surprises me people can just walk away after so many years,” she said. “I can see so much life went on there.”

Bronson has even started writing stories of the places she photographs. She’s authored a pair of books on the subject, including “Vanishing Beauty and Lingering Spirits.”

Bronson is no stranger to Healing Arts exhibitions. She’s exhibited three times in Faribault at that city’s hospital, as well as once before in Owatonna, when she focused on “silo tops and car details.”

It’s important to remember Bronson doesn’t trespass, she said. She stays off property with “no trespassing” signs and asks for permission to walk on private land if anyone is around.

Additionally, “I always carry copies of my books along” as evidence of her purpose, she said. “All we do is take photos—nothing else.”

“We don’t go inside” the houses, either, mostly for safety reasons, she said. “We’ve never gotten kicked off” a property.

Anyone interested in photography should remember that “you don’t have to have a big, fancy camera,” she said. “It’s not the camera that takes good pictures, but the person.”

In addition, “take pictures of what you like,” and shoot a lot of them, she said. Only “1 out of 100” photos Bronson takes “impresses me.”

“That’s the great thing about digital photography,” she said. “You take the ones you want and toss the rest.”

Jacob Jensen

Jensen, a life science teacher in Sauk Rapids who was raised in Owatonna and took classes at the OAC, explored ceramics in an elective during his senior year at Bemidji State University, he said. “I liked it so much I signed up for independent study.”

How did he fall in love with pottery so quickly?

“I think it’s the fact you can see what you’re doing, you can see the growth, and you can give someone something physical,” Jensen said. As a teacher, he provides knowledge—and education—but his art pieces are tangible gifts.

For the first year, “I was learning what clay could do,” including “texturing, styles, and tools,” he said. Then, “glazing is the whole other half of it—what do I want it to look like when it’s done?”

Jensen’s pieces follow one of three directions, natural—waters, rocks, and rivers—the “sculptural and human side,” and “functional ware,” he said. “If I see something that strikes me, I’m sold on it.”

Examples of the natural, the humanistic, and the functional are all part of the display at Owatonna Hospital.

For example, a pair of “combination pieces, wheel-thrown but hand-sculpted,” are featured in the emergency area, including “Mother’s Day Vase,” a gift to his mother on the holiday, he said. “It’s one of my favorites.”

Another in the exhibit is “The King,” a face with a “gruff look” that drives home the point that humanity is a vessel, he said. “He’s an empty vessel, so he’s not very happy.”

A third piece is “Ode to a Grecian Vase,” dating back to when “I got into Greek-style pottery,” he said. It includes “bigger, loopier handles,” glaze that “really brings out the gold,” and plants growing for a “Midwestern feel.”

The newest piece of Jensen’s in the hospital resembles a woman’s figure, with a crown on top, he explained. Mixing green and red led to blue, which looks like a dress.

“I really like having these pieces (displayed in Healing Arts) in my hometown, and it’s exciting to share work,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of point in making something to hoard it yourself; I want the work to find a home where it’s appreciated.”

Susan Waughtal

Though “never a full-time artist,” painting has always been present in Waughtal’s life as a complement “for my own pleasure,” she said. She boasts a BFA in drawing and painting, but “I’ve been painting since even before that.”

The pieces for this exhibition are a mixture of old and new, with the former featuring family—a time when her children were younger—and the latter focusing on “farm critters,” as she recently took up farming with her husband on a plot north of Rochester, she said. No matter the subject, however, they’re all “joyous and bright.”

She also submitted a pair of paintings that received “a good response” in Faribault’s hospital for a Healing Arts exhibition last year, she said. Several pieces are large-scale, like 4-by-6 feet, as “I love to work large,” although she’s downsized recently to paintings approximately 30-by-40 inches.

Waughtal tends to put her colors on the canvas, then let the painting emerge while in the act.

“I feel it’s much more intuitive, not getting caught up in details,” she said. “I like to be a big-picture person instead of a details person.”

“It becomes a lot like dancing,” she added. “I use a really fat brush, and I like paint juicy and liquid.”

Though Waughtal recently has branched out into other forms of art, including sculpture, and she’s toyed with other painting techniques over the years, acrylic-on-canvas remains her preference.

“I feel drawn in,” she said. “It’s quick, colors dry fast, I can layer them, and I understand how they’re going to react.”

Her most recent painting stems from mowing her lawn one day and alighting upon a large moth. Waughtal asked her husband to snap a photo to cement the image, and as he did, the moth flew onto her glasses.

However, when she tried to paint the scene, the result was disappointingly “cartoonish,” so she turned the background into branches and leaves, although “you can still see a face,” she said. “I’m tickled by it.”

Healing Arts exhibitions “are a great thing to do,” she said. In hospitals, individuals often “need a distraction, something positive to look at.”

“I love making art,” she concluded. “I try to capture the joy of the moment.”


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