Erika Mullen-Hagberg's house in Trommald is filled with art, much of it of her own creation. Some of it is traditional wall-hung drawings; other art is functional, like floor mats; still other art is for the sake of sprucing up a room - such as a nature painting on a piano.
Ever since catching the bug at Madison (Wis.) East High School, Mullen-Hagberg knew she'd always be an artist.
"If you have a passion for what you want to do, you're going to do it some way, somehow. And I've always done it even if I didn't have the financial ability to do it by itself," said Mullen-Hagberg, who pays the bills by running the Moon Bay Designs commercial art studio with her daughter, Madina.
Erika Mullen-Hagberg posed next to her rhinestone sculpture, "Madam Bling," Thursday at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. It took the Trommald artist about a year to complete the piece.
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"I've always had to do (art). When I didn't, I thought I was losing my mind. When I first got married and moved to California and didn't have any art supplies, I just about went insane. My ex-mother-in-law said, 'What do you want for Christmas?' and I said, 'I want glass.' And I did a stained-glass lampshade. Supplies are always what I asked for, because I had to do something."
That "something" is often unique. Mullen-Hagberg's latest masterpiece, which she completed in October after a year of gluing on rhinestones, is "Madam Bling."
Family: Daughter Madina, 23, and son Jade, 17.
Schooling: Beloit (Wis.) High School, 1979; Madison Area Technical College, Associate of Arts, 1989.
Early inspiration: "I'd go through the classic art history books (in high school). I'd look at the paintings; usually it was the masters who did nude studies - Michelangelo, da Vinci. Then I'd try to reproduce them."
Favorite type of art: "Science fiction, dragons, medieval art - that kind of genre I'm really intrigued with. I guess it goes back to my first high school, because it was a castle, it had bridges and the library was like a flying saucer."
What do you do in your spare time? "I embroider and I bead and paint. I do artwork every waking moment now that I have the opportunity."
"The mannequin was originally for displaying swimming suits," the artist said. "It has all the muscles and stuff. I decided to use rhinestones and do it in a thermography pattern because I didn't want it to look like a clown, (but) I wanted it to have color."
Mullen-Hagberg had remembered thermography - which charts body temperature - from when her late father was sick with cancer.
"This is a portrayal of a healthy body in thermography," she said of the sculpture. "So she's got a lot of energy."
Other than "Madam Bling," it's embroidery/bead pieces that have taken a lot of the artist's energy in the last couple years.
Mullen-Hagberg's friend and art promoter, Susanne Johnson, is among those who have been impressed with the originality of the pieces. They look like paintings from a distance, but actually, the human form is created with embroidery and the hair is created with beads.
"I have yet to find this combination (of media) and this talent," Johnson said. "And that's what's important here - that she brings that uniqueness out."
"I've been trying to find that one thing that nobody else does," Mullen-Hagberg said.
Although each piece takes at least three months to create, it never gets old for the artist. She throws a new challenge into every new creation, such as a pair of chopsticks in the hair of a female water nymph or painted blue eyes on a young man.
"I never thought I'd get intrigued with one style, and I think I could do this for quite a while. Because I can add so much media to it, it's not the same every time."
JOHN HANSEN may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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