As winter maintains its frigid grip on Owatonna, and snow banks pile higher than some buildings in town, the new season of Healing Arts will provide warm, inviting, colorful works inside Owatonna Hospital.
Westy Copeland believes her paintings are ideal for Healing Arts, because they’re “happy, cheerful, and colorful,” she said. They’re also thought-provoking.
“I want people looking at my art to take whatever meaning they want to,” she said.
It’s “super cool” that Silvan Durben, the creative director of the Owatonna Arts Center and curator for Healing Arts, “found my work on the Minnesota Art Truck” and thought it would be a suitable fit for this exhibition, Copeland said. “I love the idea of people walking around a hospital […] having something good to look at and something that can make them think.”
And she understands the value of art in a hospital setting, she said. When her father was spending copious amounts of time in a Vermont hospital with her mother, that healthcare facility also was full of art, and “he said it helped a lot.”
While Copeland’s art is scattered all around Minnesota in various locations, from coffee shops and galleries to kitchens and living rooms, she’s currently working on another piece with healing in mind, she said. Copeland has been commissioned to create a piece for the lobby of a Fraser location. Fraser serves children and adults with special needs through comprehensive education, healthcare, and housing services.
“I’m excited (to do it), because they do amazing work,” she said.
In fact, Copeland is “honored” whenever someone wants one of her creations to display, she said. “I sell a lot of my work,” in addition to commissioned pieces, and “I’m lucky,” because “it gives me such joy to paint pictures.”
Copeland has been an artist her entire life, studying painting in college and then printmaking in graduate school. Acrylic is her main medium, and she also incorporates plenty of collaging into her pieces, including utilizing vintage newspapers, music, and postcards.
While performing maintenance work in her south Minneapolis home roughly 20 years ago, Copeland and her husband noticed the garage ceiling has been insulated with layers of newspapers from the 1930s, and “I loved looking at them so much,” she said. The “font and layout intrigued me.”
As she reflects on 30-plus years of her art, “a lot of my themes have not changed,” she said. She still tends to paint “thoughtful figures,” typically women.
Her subjects are “people doing deep thinking,” she said. Additionally, “they have figured out who they are and what they are.”
“Artists often have something they need to get out of their system,” and “I’m not bored with (these recurring themes) yet,” she said. Although, she does concede there’s “more thought and wisdom” in her pieces, now, because “I’m older and wiser.”
Perhaps her favorite submission for Healing Arts is “The Red Bridge,” which depicts a woman with a blue face in front of a red bridge, because Copeland painted it “while I was going through a really tough time,” she said. “That painting was sort of an epiphany,” and it’s full of “positive, life-changing, I’ve-got-this attitude.”
It’s been hanging over the fireplace in her home for 15 years, and “I don’t show it very often,” she said. “It’s very special to me.”
Copeland has “been doing art so long” that “I paint and put things together very intuitively,” she said. However, some pieces remain unfinished in her studio for months, because they’re “just not quite right.”
More examples of Copeland’s art can be found online at her website, westycopeland.com.
“I just have to make art,” she said. “I can’t imagine living a life where I’m not creating things.”
Mankato’s Margie Larson, who recently completed an exhibition in Waseca, selected several pieces from her series of blue tones, as well as landscapes and abstract landscapes, for Healing Arts, and those who view her art can expect plenty of color, she said.
“Color is very important to me, and I love bright colors,” she said.
“Every time I try to put black on my palette, I have to take it off,” she said with a laugh. “It’s one of those funny quirks artists have, I guess.”
Larson’s painting dates back to her earliest days, but she grew more serious as she prepared for her 2009 retirement, she said. She took several classes, including on watercolor and acrylic, but only when she immersed herself back into oil painting did she feel “I was home.”
She painted in oil in college, and that’s “really what I love doing,” she said. However, Larson’s oil paintings are different than most, as, for the past handful of years, she’s been incorporating beeswax into her pieces.
“It’s mostly pure beeswax,” with only “a few chemicals to help it harden over time,” and “you get a lot of texture,” she said. Additionally, “you get a transparency you normally don’t,” so “beeswax gives you a wide variety of techniques.”
Larson rarely employs a conventional brush in her paintings, instead opting for tools like spatulas and palette knives, she said. “We use a kitchen-load” of items to add texture to paintings, and “it’s very freeing.”
“Inspiration” for her pieces is derived from several sources, including trips to places like Italy, Ireland, and Florida, she said. Others, “I saw in my imagination.”
Larson, who works primarily out of her studio in Mankato and named her creative endeavors Bittersweet Arts after the street she and her husband live on, plans to attend Tuesday’s opening at the hospital, she said. More examples of her work can be found online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’ll take on any kind of subject matter,” and Craig Steinmetz “wanted to show a big variety of subject matter” with the pieces he submitted for this exhibition, he said. “I try to take something simple and make it my own.”
Though Steinmetz had dabbled in many types of art, he “had never heard of” Sumi-E prior to seeing an advertisement for a workshop on the Asian brush technique a quarter-century ago, he said. “I fell in love with it, the simplicity of it, even though there’s nothing simple about it.”
“The challenge” of Sumi -E “drew me in” and “drove me” to excel, he said. “Each brushstroke, once you put it on paper, it’s there, and there’s no correcting it,” so “you have to be able to visualize what the end product is going to look like.”
Sumi means ink, and Sumi-E means ink painting, he said. “It is painting from the heart.”
The artist “needs to feel the Chi, or energy from within,” for Sumi-E, and its practitioners refer to the ink stick, grinding stone, bamboo brush, and rice paper as the “Four Treasures,” he said. “Learning the basic brush strokes are found in what is referred to as the ‘Four Gentlemen,’ Bamboo, Wild Orchid, Chrysanthemum and Cherry Blossoms.”
“It takes years of getting comfortable with the different brush strokes and types of paper,” and even after 25 years of Sumi-E, Steinmetz still routinely tosses several attempts into the wastebasket before he’s pleased with a piece, he said. “You can have a nice painting, and that last brush stroke […] it doesn’t turn out, or you’re not happy with it.”
Steinmetz, who plans to attend Tuesday’s open house at the hospital, favors “bigger brush strokes” with his pieces “and allowing people looking at” his art “to use their imagination,” he said. In addition, “I look at things, now, in a little more contemporary and abstract way.”
Sumi-E dates back to 7th-century China, and it “went through Korea before getting to Japan,” he said. “It got more elegant and simplistic when it hit Japan, in my opinion,” and “we changed it again when it came to Western society.”
Opening Night Tuesday
The spring season of Healing Arts, which is underwritten by the Owatonna Hospital Foundation, also features the clay works from Jerry Deuschle and Reid Thorpe’s paintings, in addition to pieces by the aforementioned Copeland, Larson, and Steinmetz. The public is invited to an opening reception Tuesday from 4:30-6 p.m.
Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.