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Artist demonstrates painting at Tettegouche

Minneapolis artist Greg Lecker painted an area just outside the Tettegouche State Park visitor center during a plein air demonstration Dec. 1. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 2
Minneapolis artist Greg Lecker mixes pain during a plein air demonstration Dec. 1 at Tettegouche State Park. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 2

Visitors at Tettegouche State Park were treated to an interesting sight Friday, Dec. 1. Minneapolis artist Greg Lecker was in the front of the visitor center with his portable easel, attached to a camera tripod. He was conducting a plein air painting — painting outdoors — demonstration.

Lecker worked out the broad strokes of his painting, with the trees and hill in the background and what appears to be a river flowing toward Lake Superior in the foreground. As people walked by, they stopped to take a look at the work and ask questions about what he was creating. The image began to take shape.

It certainly could've been a river — perhaps the Baptism River — but as the light gray tones began to fill what would be water, it became apparent what Lecker was painting in the foreground: the visitor center parking lot.

Lecker said that plein air paintings allow him "artistic license."

An engineer by trade, Lecker began painting in the 1980s. He enjoys the challenge of plein air painting, which gives him a deadline of sorts. With plein air painting, artists have perhaps three or four hours to complete their work before the light changes and alters the scene they are trying to capture.

"It is built-in time management," Lecker said. "It's like having a fitness instructor telling me I'm going to meet them somewhere to do a workout. I have to show up and get to work."

Lecker prefers to paint live scenes instead of from a photograph because it doesn't allow the artists to add as much of their own perspective in the work.

"We know light is yellow, but as it recedes, we lose that yellow and knowing to drop that to orange and then red and purple," Lecker said. "Those are all of the tricks to capture it in that moment. If we take a photograph, it will be in focus and everything will be of equal importance.

In this we are trying to tell a story. What is the emphasis, the focal point, we can do that by softening and hardening edges, things like that."

Lecker began coming to the North Shore with friends who own a cabin on Highway 61 near Betty's Pies. He was introduced to the Superior Hiking Trail, and after taking a few guided hikes with the Superior Hiking Trail Association, he fell in love with the trail and the natural beauty of the area.

"I was blown away that you can be no more than 5 miles inland and be in the middle of nowhere," he said. "I just felt no matter where I was that I was in the prettiest part in the trail system and then I'd turn a corner and experience the same thing."

Lacker's work will be on display for the next couple of months at the visitor center as part of an artist showcase program unique in Minnesota to Tettegouche.

Creating space for artists

Since he began working at the park as an interpretive naturalist just after the visitor center opened in 2014, Kurt Mead has tried to keep the building's walls decorated with artwork depicting local scenes or themes.

"The building was designed with a lot of open wall space," Mead said. "Initially, there were these photos that were printed on canvas and were put together to fill that space. They are nice images, but after six months or so, we got a bit tired of them."

Mead enjoys that in addition to Lecker's scenes of nature on the North Shore, he also includes other aspects that evoke the history of the area, like trains coming into Two Harbors and historic buildings. He also enjoys Lecker's plein air work and the way it conjures the "post-colonial history of the North Shore."

"Sometimes, if you just walk up and see a plein air painting, it might not look as polished or finished as a studio painting might," Mead said. "A studio painting might take three to four months to paint a finished work. A plein air painter has a very finite amount of time. Many people would look at a plein air painting and think it could use some work. In reality, it is capturing an event."

Silver Bay artist Laurie Olson-Hohman contacted Mead about displaying her work in the visitor center, but the initial answer was no. Mead continued to ponder the idea and related questions, like if artists showing at Tettegouche could sell the work displayed on the walls.

After talking with others at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state park system, the decision was made to start displaying artists' work on a rotating basis. The artists can sell their work directly to buyers without involving the park, but Mead asks that the art remains on display until the end of the scheduled show.

"Once it got rolling, I started to look around up and down the shore and you can barely swing a stick without hitting an artist. There aren't a lot of places to show that art," Mead said. "There are a few little galleries, but they are mostly commercial operations more so than galleries."

Since the program started about two and a half years ago, the program has evolved to create a three-member jury panel that selects artists. The art rotates out every month or two. What's more, visitors to the North Shore are learning about the shows and many stop in at the visitor center just to see the art hanging there.

Mead has shows scheduled through December 2018, including a show for elementary students from William Kelley Schools early next year.

Artists who want to display their work at the visitor center should email six examples of their work to Mead at Art should evoke the environment, history or culture of the North Shore. The park can't accept 3D art due to space limitations.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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