AITKIN -- The Jaques Art Center of Aitkin has emerged this year as a showcase for area talent, in keeping with an "intentional effort to appeal to the community," a center board member said this week.
With a single exception, the center has offered a series of exhibits featuring the works of homegrown artists, including a May-to-June retrospective by favorite son and museum namesake Francis Lee Jaques.
The only exhibit of works by outsiders was the Lutheran Brotherhood collection of religious art, which opened the museum's 2001 schedule in January with a 20-day run.
Since then, the center has hosted:
Ole Mindrum's oil on board painting is untitled.
-- A two-month display by members of its board and staff, including Ruth Anderson, Celia Doty, Wayne Dickinson and Cherie Holm.
-- "A Class Act" by area schoolchildren in late April and early May.
-- The Jaques collection, part of which originally showed at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History from January to May.
-- The "Aitkin All-Class Reunion Art Show," subtitled "Homegrown Talents," in late June and early July.
Carroll Heft painted this California farm scene in oil.
-- And the area Ripple River Quilters exhibit that closes Saturday.
Now the center is turning its attention to the works of three Aitkin-bred artists who flourished from the 1930s through the 1950s.
"Heritage Art" -- which spotlights the careers of Carroll Heft, Ernst Dahle and Ole Mindrum -- opens Wednesday at the downtown Aitkin museum-gallery.
Heft, at 87 the only survivor of the three, will attend an exhibit reception at 7 p.m. Sept. 7, along with several Dahle and Mindrum descendants who still live in the area.
Carroll Heft, 87, the only survivor of the three artists with Aitkin roots whose works will be on display at the Jaques Art Center in downtown Aitkin, will attend a public reception Sept. 7 with descendants of the other two artists, Ernst Dahle and Ole Mindrum.
"We (board) declared that 2001 as being the time when we were going to show artists from Aitkin," said Cherie Holm, a board member and Aitkin native who lives in the Twin Cities. "It was an intentional effort to appeal to the community, and the strategy has paid off.
"Local people have been coming into the center in droves and that is a good public relations thing," added Holm, who is also spearheading a $200,000 building expansion project at the center, located in a converted public library.
"We have been exposing more and more people to the center, and now they are depending on us to bring good things back to them," Holm said.
Board member Ruth Anderson was selected to curate the "Heritage Art" show, in part because Mindrum, a muralist with a checkered and legendary past, once lived as a renter in her family's Aitkin home.
"He made many paintings for us, including a mural on the bathroom wall," she said this week, "so it is special that he is one of the heritage artists."
Anderson recruited Beverly Johnson, Mindrum's daughter, to write a "memoir" of her father, who left the family when she was 5.
A retired St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter and editor, Johnson recalled her father's penchant for "walls and wide open spaces to be filled with woodland scenes of deer at the water's edge, sunrises and sunsets, trees, brush and flowers."
Johnson recalls her father's bouts with alcohol, her parents' stormy marriage and ultimately a divorce and his departure to work on the Alcan Highway during World War II, a trip from which he never returned.
Mindrum was reunited with his family just months before his death in 1976, when his picture appeared in a Portland newspaper, she wrote.
"The years between are a blank," Johnson wrote, "although it is known that Ole painted his way west. Examples of his work can be found all along the way, including murals."
Johnson also drafted a profile of Heft, interviewing the professionally trained artist at his Moose Lake home. Heft worked for many years as a technical artist in the California aircraft industry before returning to the Aitkin area in 1955.
Heft described himself as a "dabbler" who contributed numerous pieces of commissioned art to the city, area businesses and his family members.
Dahle's life was profiled for the exhibit by his niece Lewann Sotnak, an Aitkin resident. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's fine arts department, Dahle was a longtime Aitkin area Lutheran minister who painted in his spare time. He died in 1982 at age 82.
Anderson said the artists' family members, many of whom continue to live in the area, have contributed most of the pieces in the exhibit.
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