Wiley's paintings and afghans featured in OAC this month along with Stark's jackets and shoes

The Owatonna Arts Center will feature two exhibits this month: “Crochet in Transition, Animal Paintings,” by Malia Wiley, and a selection of Sharon Stark’s signature jackets and shoes.

Wiley’s Crochet, Afghans, and Animals

Wiley, who lives in Lake Crystal, has participated in the arts center’s Art on the Hills festival, but this will be her first exhibition inside the center itself, she said. While the preponderance of her paintings are commissioned — “People commission me to paint their pets” — this “series is for me.”

It’s no surprise that animals are paramount in her paintings, since veterinary technician finished a close second to artist when she was deciding her career path post-high school, she said.

“I went for art, but I still work with animals,” said Wiley

“Always an artist,” Wiley, who prefers oil for her paintings, is in her third year making it a full-time career, she said. Initially, quitting her job to devote herself full time to art was “scary,” but that quickly transitioned to “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Her work found a devoted audience, and while “my style is realistic, there’s definitely a painterly quality to it,” she said. “It’s not photo-realism.”

“I still like it to look and feel like a painting,” she said. “You should be able to see the artist’s process when you view (the piece) in person.”

Wiley learned to crochet from her grandmother.

“I’ve always kept up with it,” she said.

She soon decided to combine her passions into this series, where afghans are incorporated with various animals in paintings.

A grant from the Prairie Lakes Art Council allowed her to “explore the idea more,” and “people responded so well to it,” she said. “They loved the work, and I have sold so many of these paintings.”

Often, afghans blend seamlessly into the pieces. For example, the afghan in a painting with hens appears similar to grass, the afghan in a painting with a rabbit reminds one of snow, and the afghan in a painting with a duck resembles water.

“I try to let the afghan inspire what animal it may be paired with,” said Wiley.

Sometimes, that’s an obvious connection, such as with the duck painting, which features an afghan with a “ripple stitch.”

“I love the duck and water,” she said. “That was really fun to paint.”

The afghans she uses for her art are a mix of some she’s created herself, some from her family members, and some she’s purchased. The latter — buying from thrift stores or garage sales — always hits Wiley with a twinge of melancholy.

“It always makes me sad when I see a beautiful afghan sitting at a thrift store, and I buy it for $2,” she said. “I want people to appreciate the time and effort someone put into it.”

“People aren’t as handy, now, but it’s really important to do things with your hands, and very satisfying,” she said. To crochet, for example, “is not just ‘a grandma thing,’ and it’s good for kids to try it.”

There will be a reception from 1-4 p.m. for Wiley this Sunday at the Owatonna Arts Center, and the public is invited. Her pieces, as well as Stark’s jackets and shoes, will be on display in the center starting Sunday and through July 28.

At least one individual will likely be pleasantly surprised by one of Wiley’s works in this exhibit, a piece featuring a dog out in nature, she said. “A husband commissioned it with their dog, and his wife is going to see it for the first time” at this exhibit.

Stark’s Jackets and Shoes

To say Sharon Stark had a fondness for jackets is like promulgating Imelda Marcos had a predilection for shoes.

On countless occasions when Stark and Silvan Durben, the creative director of the OAC, were on “outings” to pick up art, Stark would spot a shop and begin trying on jackets, Durben recalled with a smile. “She’d say, ‘Silvan, I really don’t need another jacket,’” but, most times, another would be added to her collection.

Following Stark’s death last year, Durben and her friends selected a number of jackets for this show, ranging from “very casual” to rather baroque, he said. The shoes are similarly impressive, as they’re all from Nordstrom.

That was out of necessity, though, Durben said. Stark “had very narrow and long feet, so she had to buy her shoes” from that department store.

Later this month, one of Stark’s dreams will be fulfilled, as Mara Ostermeier-Schack will come to town to co-star in “The Last Five Years,” a modern musical chronicling the five-year life of a marriage. Stark, a founding member of the Little Theatre of Owatonna and executive secretary for 52 years, had seen Ostermeier-Schack perform the production in Wisconsin and hoped to see her one day do it in Owatonna.

Ostermeier-Schack will co-star with Tim Van Gelder for the LTO show, performances of which are slated for 7:30 p.m. July 25-27 and 2 p.m. July 28. There will also be a celebration lawn party from 9-11 p.m. July 25 to kick off the Sharon Stark Forever Fund on the lawn between the LTO and the OAC.

The lawn party will include hors d’oeuvres, live music, and a cash bar. Admission will be free.

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