Becky Jokela’s ‘Reflection’

Reflection by Becky Jokela, Pastel painting, 18 x 24

This year I had the honor of serving as a juror for the drawing and pastels class at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. Each year, the Exhibition proves an amazing showcase of amateur and professional artists representing the diversity and talent of Minnesota artists. This post is to highlight the artist who I awarded an honorable mention: Becky Jokela and her pastel painting Reflection.

I enjoyed the way Becky captured the early spring light and reflection on the snow and river, as well as capturing the optimism of that first hint of spring after a long winter. I was curious to learn more about what inspired Becky to create Reflection and this is what she said:

‘Reflection’ is a painting I created as part of my project, ‘Sogn Valley – Painting the Little Cannon Watershed’. Thanks to a SEMAC (Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council) grant, I spent a year creating paintings of the Little Cannon River with sketches and field studies done on site. From the headwaters near Kenyon to the junction with the Cannon River in Cannon Falls, I explored the river and watershed with the surrounding hills, meadows, pastures, woodland valleys, snow melt, springs and creeks.

Clearly, there was an abundance of subject matter along this 35 mile long river and watershed, but I was most excited to paint the limestone outcropping near the Old Oxford Mill. These dramatic limestone cliffs just around the river bend supplied limestone for building the late 19th century mill. When I was a kid, our school bus passed by this scene every day. Even then I thought the mill was cool and the cliffs were stunning. Fast forward a few decades and here I am painting them!

I chose the winter to paint this scene. It is not only my favorite season to paint but winter accentuates the drama of these limestone cliffs reflecting into the Little Cannon River. I loved the entire process… Tromping through the snow, creating two small paintings, still winter but warm enough to stand outside and paint for a couple of hours, and later creating the larger painting in the warmth of my studio. ‘Reflection’ is my favorite painting of the series, so I’m especially thrilled to have received an award at the state fair!

When I look at this landscape, I almost feel the early Spring sun on my face, the return of moisture to the air, and just the hint of the world waking up after a long Minnesota Winter. This image of the long awaited turn of the season from Winter to Spring, the turn from a child watching from a school bus to an adult to capturing the scene in pastels, reminds me of the steady but sure passage of time, like the peaceful flowing of the Little Cannon River passed the timeless limestone cliff face.

If you attend the Fair this year, stop by the Fine Arts building at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove, otherwise take a look at the online catalog . Learn more about Becky Jokela at www.beckyjokela.com.

Donald L. Esse’s ‘George’

George by Donald L. Esse, Pencil, 30 x 40

This year I had the honor of serving as a juror for the drawing and pastels class at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. Each year, the Exhibition proves an amazing showcase of amateur and professional artists representing the diversity and talent of Minnesota artists. This post is to highlight the artist who I awarded an honorable mention: Donald L. Esse and his drawing George.

George captured my attention by its perceived simplicity: an older man in a chair with a newspaper folded on his lap, looking back at me with sad, intelligent eyes. Donald captures the light falling across his subject in a way that makes the viewer wonder what lies below the surface of the man who has one arm posed to pull himself out of his chair and his other arm seeming to hold himself back, his hand covering his mouth. I wanted to know more about this drawing and asked Donald to share the backstory:

George is a dear friend I got to know about 10 years ago. At that time, he was a very active, vital person with a quick wit and sharp memory. He’s a very insightful, generous and compassionate man who cares deeply about people in need. He is also a voracious reader who loves his daily StarTribune. He is twice a widower, never had children and has no immediate family. I have sort of become the son he never had.

George is keenly aware of his declining physical and mental health, I wanted to portray the reality that each of us must face our own mortality. Over the past two years, dementia has taken a toll on his memory and my role has shifted from friend to part-time caregiver. As our friendship developed, I was struck by George’s uncanny ability to sum up a complex thought in just a few quick words. Despite his declining cognitive abilities, he still has periods where that ability shines through. He still loves to engage in a lively political discussion or speak out about social injustice, especially after the murder of George Floyd and the covid 19 pandemic. In my humble opinion, the world would be a better place if there were more people like my friend George. In a nutshell, I wanted to try to capture some of these qualities about George in a portrait and make a statement about honoring and respecting our older generations.

A big factor in my doing his portrait was George’s encouragement. In 2005, I was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver. I was given only a 5% chance of survival beyond the end of that year. Somehow, I survived and have been cancer-free since 2009. But the emotional and physical toll the battle took was crushing. I went through a very dark period over the past 5 years, trying to figure out why I’m still here. I pretty much gave up on myself and my art. But George kept after me to get back to the easel. He lost his first wife to cancer so he knew exactly what I had been through. With his encouragement, I got back to my drawing board and easel, he truly inspired and challenged me to get back to what I love. For that, I wanted to immortalize this man!

I have been an artist my entire life (67yrs old), spent my working career as a commercial artist with MN ad agencies for 33 years. My first accepted entry in the MN State Fair Competition was a pencil drawing I created in 1994. Over the years, I have had several oil paintings accepted in the exhibit as well. Although I thoroughly enjoy oil painting, I believe my strong suit is in my pencil work. My last accepted entry was in 2012, so I am absolutely thrilled and honored that my portrait of George was accepted and given an honorable mention in this year’s exhibit!

The portrait of George expresses an inner struggle of facing one’s own mortality, something all of us contend with sooner or later. Donald’s photo-realistic pencil marks create a meditation that recognizes and honors that struggle.

If you attend the Fair this year, stop by the Fine Arts building at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove, otherwise take a look at the online catalog.

Suzann Beck’s ‘A Face of 2021’

A Face of 2021 by Suzann Beck, Pastel on Pastelcard, 24 x 21

This year I had the honor of serving as a juror for the drawing and pastels class at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. Each year, the Exhibition proves an amazing showcase of amateur and professional artists representing the diversity and talent of Minnesota artists. This post is to highlight the artist who I awarded a third place ribbon: Suzann Beck and her pastel portrait, A Face of 2021.

Suzann’s portraiture skill is amazing, but she hit a chord on people’s collective heart strings with A Face of 2021. Such a timeless style to express the current year’s challenges. I was left wanting to know so much more about who the woman is and what kind of hopes she hides under her COVID mask. Below is what Suzann shared with me:

As you guessed, there is so much more story to Maggie, and it’s almost a shame to show her without that story. Maggie is a fellow artist and works with fiber and textiles (makwastudio.com). She’s Ojibwe and makes the mask style she’s wearing based on traditional Ojibwe ribbon dresses (I think she was even recognized by the Smithsonian for them). She has a deep belief in her ability to work hard to become a success with her art.

And this piece almost didn’t get entered in the Fair because my framer forgot about it in their shop and piled heavy things on top of its box. Apparently the box collapsed and smudged the center of the piece all the way down the center. It was a mental discipline for me to sit back down at my easel with it and repair it—part way into it, I almost gave up. But something in me said it was one of my best pieces and I should stick it out. So here we are, at the Fair looking at my piece with the ribbon awarded—I almost felt like a kid again with my 4H project winning a ribbon!

A Face of 2021 speaks to me of the best efforts we have all taken to protect ourselves and others, never really knowing whether it is enough, and retaining our hopes and dreams through the our strength and resiliency.

If you attend the Fair this year, stop by the Fine Arts building at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove, otherwise take a look at the online catalog. Learn more about Suzann at www.suzannbeck.com. Credit to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association nemaa.org who commissioned the rights to use the digital image in their 2021 Art-A-Whirl event.