It was a day in spring when yellow-green sun filtered through high clouds, and winter weary folks shed jackets like maple leaves dropping their reddish husks. Dressed for work in a plaid shirt, artist Diane Runberg hauled her paintings to the porch of her log cabin studio, enjoying the break from routine and the soft, spring light.
It's every artist's dream -- the unattached studio. Actually, it's the kind of getaway place any woman pines for -- far from phones, laundry and grocery lists. For some time, Runberg had talked log cabin, visualized a cabin -- and then two years ago, she spotted one in a meadow just north of Clow Stamping. For days she drove by the 12-foot by 20-foot structure, with its attached porch and interior loft, until it dawned on her that this could be the answer to her dreams.
Moved to a private corner of property on Horseshoe Lake, the log cabin turned studio provides peace and quiet. No phones or running water -- there's just enough heat from a gas stove to take the chill out of a cold morning. Here Runberg paints her watercolors, mostly florals, now and then trying her hand at landscape, sometimes adding paper, collage or acrylic paint to create in mixed media.
Life was not always so pastoral. For years, Runberg lived in Brainerd with her family of four in a cozy house on North Eighth Street and worked nearby at the Bremer Bank. In 20 years she climbed the banking ladder, starting as "end cage clerk," switchboard operator, bookkeeper, teller and moving on to bank president's private secretary, auditor, marketing officer, controller and Baxter office manager, until she retired in 1994 as a senior vice president of operations.
And then life took a different turn. A stroke landed her mother in a nursing home and her son, Joe, returned from the Gulf War. In a few short months, life seemed shorter and each day more precious.
"I realized I'd put off what I really wanted to do," said Runberg. And that was to paint.
An art major from St. Cloud State University, Runberg knew art takes energy. "I couldn't put in long hours at the bank and come home and paint," she said. Before full retirement kicked in, Runberg left banking, giving up a comfortable salary, benefits and accrued vacation.
Scary as the change seemed at the time, Runberg wasn't exactly jumping into an abyss. The '90s were booming years for real estate and her husband, Jim, had more appraisal work than he could handle. At first Diane expanded her bookkeeping duties and earned an appraisal license to use in the family business.
While she continues to help out, more and more she's giving herself permission to search for personal satisfaction in her art.
Getting back into painting, Runberg signed on for watercolor workshops taught by Rose Edin in Staples. Runberg said workshops are a good way for students at all levels to perfect their technique.
This summer Runberg travels to Spain as part of a group organized by watercolor artist Karlyn Holman. Staying at renovated castles and bed and board monasteries, the artists will use the fertile valleys, coasts and mountains as models for their canvas.
Now a teacher in her own right, Runberg taught two watercolor classes at The Crossing Arts Alliance on Laurel Street. "How do you make black?" she inquires of the 13 students seated with their own paper, palettes and a supply of paints. Runberg demonstrates in the front of the class, mixing her darkest red with a little green. As her students experiment, she walks around the room. "When you pull that in you get undertones," she said, teaching how to create interest.
Since leaving the bank, Runberg's been active in the Crosslake Art Club and the Lakes Area Artists Group. Clubs, she said, are a good way to meet other artists and find out about workshops. Both groups hold shows over the summer -- a good venue for selling artwork. Drawing on her skills from banking days, Runberg serves as treasurer for both groups and chaired the last Crosslake show.
On this day, a bright orange oriole serenades her from the sparsely leafed trees. No sweeter sound is music to paint by. A stone's throw from the studio, a dock extends from a sandy beach, promising hours of fun for Runberg grandchildren this summer. At the point of the peninsula, a gazebo sits like an element in a Zen garden, calming all comers to restful repose.
In this peaceful place, it is no wonder she paints such beauty on the canvas.
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