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Art Leap: Driving tour of artistans’ studios begins this weekend

Artists, from left, Janine Merrick, Gayla McElroy-Orr and Bickey Bender are among the exhibitors in this weekend’s Art Leap. Bender is also hosting fiber artist Jo Hill, Gina Singer’’s pottery and Nediha Kolakovic’s jewelr. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

By Jean Ruzicka

Intrigue your imagination. Take a leap – Art Leap, that is.

Saturday and Sunday, when temps are forecast to reach the mid-70s, hop in the motor car for a spin to area destinations.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, offering a broad range of mediums to explore.

The tour has familiar studio names and, this year, new places and faces.

All aboard!

A classic red caboose on Stony Lake will be the site of a “whistle stop,” six artists displaying and demonstrating pottery, paper making, textiles, jewelry, watercolor and more.

Bickey Bender is the “engineer.”

When the Blank Canvas gallery on Main closed, Bender decided the train car, built in the early 1900s and based in Brainerd, would make a great venue. Her brother and former owner, Wayne Kirmis, “grew up beside the tracks,” developing a fascination for trains, she said. The car was hauled in on two flatbeds and sits on tracks in the yard.

“Where does it go from here?” a little boy asked of the car overlooking Stony Lake.

A gallery on the move

The idea for an artistic sojourn began in 2006. North Country Museum of Arts curator Dawn Kast was approached by the Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council on whether the region had “enough creative people” to replicate what Paul and Pat Dove had seen in Fergus Falls.

Six artists stepped forward the first year and the event has subsequently grown each year. The number of sites, many with multiple artists exhibiting, has grown to 14 this year, with music and theater added to the mix.

During the nine years of the Art Leap’s existence, the White Birch Artists have exhibited on the porch of Amish Oak, the library basement, where the Tin Ceiling is now located and at the Blank Canvas, Bender recalled.

When the gallery on Main closed, Bender decided to offer the caboose and garage as a site.

“Any time you get to exhibit is payback for those lonely hours in the studio,” Janine Merrick said of the exhibit.

“Talking to people,” Bender said. “That’s rewarding.”

“They want to see how things are done,” Gayla McElroy-Orr said, abstracts, specifically. The non-representational works, employing all artistic principles, sell well, they agreed.

“It’s not throwing paint at canvas,” Bender said.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Merrick said.

“People are always amazed at the talent in this area,” McElroy-Orr said, adding with a grin, “I like the lonely hours…My husband knows I like being at the place where I go when I paint. It’s relaxing, like meditation.”

“I lose all track of time,” Merrick said.

“I look outside and it’s dark,” McElroy-Orr said of her days in the studio. “Where did the time go?’

“If I didn’t need a meal on the table…” Bender reflected of interrupting her creative process.

Bender and Merrick discovered their artistic prowess in grade school, both recruited by teachers for projects.

But McElroy-Orr hadn’t drawn “except for doodling,” until 2003 after retiring from her career in nursing.

“What will you do when you retire?” friends inquired.

“I saw so much beauty in life, in people, in nature – the sun, the sky. I want to represent that,” she told them.

Maps available

“Art Leap stimulates an interest in art,” Merrick said. “It introduces people to new artists and gives artists an opportunity to display their work.”

Judy and Jerry Wegenast’s Touch of Art Studio will feature Cyrus Swann’s pottery and Theresa and Don Paul of Prairie Paul’s Studio, makers of jewelry and unique copper pieces. Bruce Ostern will be a guest artist at the residence of Earl and Jeanette Wohlmann. 

A new site this year is the Creative Minds/Messy Fingers Art Studio at Owl’s Nest Resort on 5th Crow Wing Lake.

Owners Kris and Bob Sauser do traditionally fired and raku pottery, glass fusing, some creative welding and some metal clay and glass fusing and will do demonstrations in wheel throwing, glass cutting and possibly raku firing and welding.

Six artists will be demonstrating at Smoky Hills Art in downtown Park Rapids and the band, Unpolished, will perform both days.

Other live performances will be:

n The Art Leap Music Festival at Terrapin Station in Nevis from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday,

n A reception and talk by guest artist Jeron Childs at Nemeth Art Center from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, and

n The Great Northern Radio Show at Armory Square, also on Saturday. Call 800-662-5799 to reserve your free tickets.

Brochures with maps, other performance times and more information are available at the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, Park Rapids Area Library and other locations and at