Posts Categorized: Artist Features

Artist Feature: Carl Homstad

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By Benji Nichols • Photos courtesy Carl Homstad
Originally published in the October/November 2009 Inspire(d)

Many people in the upper Midwest can recognize the unique wood cut prints of Decorah artist Carl Homstad – and perhaps even more have seen some of his 40 plus murals on the sides of buildings from Osceola to Calmar. But as this successful local artist can attest, the artist’s path is not usually one of riches and fame, but of honest hard work and creativity – both on the canvas, and off the beaten trail.

CarlHeadshotIt was in the late 1960s that Carl Homstad traveled from Denver, Colorado to Northeast Iowa on a visit to Luther College, the very school where his parents had met decades earlier. But it wasn’t exactly an introduction to Decorah’s institute of higher learning that sold him on later returning to Luther as a student. “I came out for my sister’s graduation, and instead of going to the ceremony, I floated down the river in a canoe – that was pretty much it,” he says. “Denver was a thousand miles away, and that seemed about right.”

Of course it didn’t seem to hurt that the counterculture of the late 1960s was also alive and well at Luther when Homstad showed up that perfect spring day, but he also sites a noticeable crop of both teachers and students, particularly in the arts, that helped lure him to Decorah. Amongst the most notable art educators at Luther during that time were Orville Running and Dean Schwartz – both instrumental in getting an Art Major recognized at the College just a decade earlier – and the young, new educator Doug Eckheart.

Homstad spent much time honing his skills both with his mentors at Luther and also studying abroad. A year with the Institute of European Studies included a class on mural painting in Vienna, amongst many other opportunities. Upon returning to the US and finishing his degree at Luther, Homstad found interesting opportunities close to home. The Iowa Arts Council, then led by Nan Stillians, was in its hay day with Touring Art Team projects. It was within this program that Homstad began to shape his style and ideas for recreating the Iowa landscapes and scenes that he is now well known for.

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The Touring Art Teams of the progressively-led Iowa Arts Council of the 1970s read like a who’s-who of now well-known Midwestern artists. Each summer, a team of eight to 10 Iowa artists would visit 20 towns that had fewer than 1500 people. The first day in a new town they would show off their crafts and skills for the residents to see, and on the second day they would teach classes and then have them present their own show that night – and Homstad says the creativity that came out of these rural Iowa communities was a revelation

“What it really did was showed that art was for everyone – and people really noticed. It was amazing some of the talent that we found – competing kitchen bands from neighboring towns, incredible painters, musicians…” he says, trailing off.

It was also during this time that Homstad began working through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) program. “The town of Jefferson, Iowa, wanted a mural, and through the channels I was picked as the person to do it – even though I hadn’t actually done a large scale outdoor mural! It was one of, if not the biggest, murals I have ever done. I had taken a class – a study really – on murals in Vienna and knew how to do it, but hadn’t actually done one – so it was my first outdoor landscape mural. I’ve learned a lot since then…”

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The humble artist now has an impressive collective body of mural-works across the upper Midwest that is really nothing short of a legacy. Most of the works are commissioned scenes of historical landscapes or locations and Homstad enjoys explaining the almost Zen process of designing, implementing, and creating the murals. “I always tell people that murals, just like house paint, are not permanent. They have to be worked on every few years if you want to keep them – otherwise the scenes just fade back into time,” he says.

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(Newton Printshop – painted in 7 Days!)

As Homstad continued to mature as an artist he found that his studio in Northeast Iowa offered him an life that he was short to find anywhere else. The natural beauty and changing seasons provided not only a lot of fun outdoor activities, but also a vast array of scenes to call up in his woodcuts. “It was Orville Running who showed me that the woodcut prints could be a decent way to make a living – as even though they take some time to create, as an artist you can then print many of them and have them in various galleries all at once – versus having one painting in one place at a time.”

The process that goes into Homstad’s woodcut prints is something he enjoys. Generally four different plates are carved of the same scene depicting different reliefs that are then inked by hand and printed in sequence. “It’s kind of like making a picture into a jigsaw puzzle, drawing it, cutting it up into pieces, and then putting them back together,” says Homstad of the tedious printing process. “It’s not really drudgery though – it’s interesting work.”

Through his art, Homstad has drawn from his past and yet pushed forward in style and mediums. He says he has noticed a change in his compositions over the last decade – now following a more organic, flowing shape and utilizing empty space. “The hardest thing is to be simple – I’ve been creating art for the better part of 50 years and learning the whole way,” he says. “But now I sort of have to un-learn a lot of those things to find the space and simplicity.”

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Much of this he attributes to his travels and study of Chinese and Japanese woodcuts as well as ink wash painting. Homstad has also found himself at a place in life where he has rediscovered other mediums. It was an invitation by good friend Mike Noonan of Unified Jazz Ensemble fame that brought him back to oil painting.

“Mike invited me out to see a Winslow Homer retrospective in DC –he is one of my favorite artists. While I was there I realized that Winslow didn’t really start oil painting until he was 45, and I thought, I’m 45, I could still do this! I mean, trying to make a living as an oil painter is like being a quarterback in the NFL – it’s out there, but it’s pretty hard to do. Luckily because of some of my other artwork I am now afforded the chance to come back to painting.”

Taking shape from many events in Homstad’s life, his oil paintings share stories from rail riding across the west as a young man, to serene and mature landscapes of Japan, the Midwest, and many points between. It is within these landscapes that Homstad confesses his true goal in his artistic life, with only a slight grin on his wild and honest face, “What I’m ultimately working toward is a zen painting of a corn field.”

Carl Homstad’s rural Decorah studio is open by appointment and will also be featured on the Northeast Iowa Studio Tour. Visit www.carlart.com for more information about the artist, as well as world of famous hermit and social commentator Art Kuntsler.

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Benji Nichols has a not-so-secret passion for collecting woodcut prints of local artists, and believes we are incredibly luck to have a great history of such art here in NE Iowa.

Artist Feature: Paul Bauhs

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Woodworker Paul Bauhs takes the road less traveled

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Photos by Kyrl Henderson
Originally published in the Winter 2012-13 Inspire(d)

Paul Bauhs lives barely 10 miles past Decorah’s city limits, yet his house (and adjacent workshop) feels much more remote. So off-the-beaten-path is Bauhs, in fact, that many first-time visitors get at least a little lost; bears are not unheard-of neighbors; and, yes, even MapQuest doesn’t get the route quite right.

bauhs_paulIt was the secluded nature of this breathtaking piece of land along the Upper Iowa River that first lured this talented woodworker to Decorah three decades ago – and it’s also one of the main reasons he can’t ever envision leaving. This homestead is where he has, quite literally, carved out a niche for himself in Northeast Iowa’s rich artisan community.

“I love Decorah,” says Bauhs. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Nor can he imagine making a living any way else. A native of Waverly, Iowa, Bauhs has always, as he puts it, “been good with my hands.” And he’s always been fascinated by wood. As a child, he would spend hours at a time at the local lumberyard. “It was my favorite place to hang,” he says. “I thought the guys who worked there had the coolest jobs in the world.”

By his early teens, he had graduated from admiring wood to working with it. His first piece? A rustic aquarium cabinet. “It looked pretty good and didn’t fall down,” he says with a laugh. “That was a time when experimentation was its own reward.”

bauhs_irregsBauhs would go on to graduate from Wartburg College, a small liberal arts college in his hometown, with a degree in psychology and plenty of studio art classes on his transcript. Though he considered a career in art education – and took classes at both Wartburg and, later, the University of Iowa in that discipline – it was during a three-year apprenticeship working alongside the master craftsmen at the famed Amana (Iowa) Furniture Shop that he found his life’s calling. He learned how to choose just the right piece of wood for a given project, how to set up machinery (and set it up right), and how to work with tools like a planer to size the thickness of boards and a drill press to make holes in those boards.

“I had no professional skills to speak of when I started there and had to learn the ‘language’ of woodworking,” says Bauhs. “Even though there wasn’t much creativity involved, the repetition of making the same furniture designs over and over made it a great place to learn.”

By the early 80s, Bauhs was yearning for “a different way of life” than a city could provide – a place where he could work as vegetable grower (also a longtime passion), pursue interests like woodworking and canoeing, and help raise a family. Determined to find just the right spot, he spent years looking at property throughout Northeast Iowa before finally landing on the 33 acres where he still resides and where he raised his two sons, Aaron and Logan. “When we came down through the woods, I just knew,” he says. “The house was in pretty rough shape, but that wasn’t really a consideration – you can always change the house, but you can’t change the land.”

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Today that house – a circa 1865 log cabin with a much newer wood-frame addition – is equal part home and showroom, a testament to Bauhs’s prodigious woodworking talent. Crafted over the course of a 20-year home-renovation process, his handiwork enlivens every room – from the live-edge honey locust stair rail to the live-edge elm mantel (his favorite piece) that decorates a living room so full of his visually commanding furniture that, upon entering the room, it’s difficult to decide where to look first. “I’m a very visual person,” he says of finding inspiration. “That’s a big reason why I enjoy woodworking so much.”

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As his home might suggest, while Bauhs is skilled in working with all kinds of wood, he particularly enjoys the challenge of transforming live-edge wood – or wood that retains its natural edges, knots, and wild-grain patterns – into furniture and cabinetry that both function well and look great. “It takes some creativity to figure out what to do with the natural character of a piece of wood, but I like that challenge,” he says, adding, “I think people are yearning for more nature in their homes, and that’s why this type of woodwork resonates with so many folks.”

Having turned avocation into vocation over the last three decades, Bauhs has crafted cabinetry and furniture (both more traditional and live edge) that can be found in homes, offices, and kitchens throughout the region, as well as St. Ben’s Catholic Church and First United Methodist Church in Decorah. Still, Bauhs is quick to point out he is just one in the large (and growing) community of skilled artisans this area boasts. “There’s an amazing artisan presence here,” he says, citing Chris Wasta of Wild Rose Timberworks as having a particularly strong influence on his work. “I can’t imagine working with better people – I’m always learning from them.”

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And they, no doubt, from him. Watching Bauhs don his protective gear, pull out his miter saw, and start to work on a walnut table –  he likes most local wood species, but walnut is his favorite –  it’s clear he’s carved out a place for himself in the Driftless Region – and it’s exactly where he was meant to be, doing exactly what he was meant to do.

“I always try to strike a balance between functional needs and appearance,” he says, pausing thoughtfully. “I tend to think a lot of what I do is sculpture with a purpose.”

For more information on Paul Bauhs Woodworking, visit www.paulbauhs.com.
Bauhs’ artist studio is one of the many great stops on the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour.

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Sara Friedl-Putnam admits to getting a bit lost on her way to interview Paul Bauhs but fully enjoyed the off-the-beaten path adventure nonetheless.

Artist Feature: Elisabeth Maurland

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By Susie Clark • Photos courtesy Elisabeth Maurland
Originally published in the Summer 2011 Inspire(d)

Some things are better left unsaid; others speak for themselves.

“It seems cliché,” artist Elisabeth Maurland says with a smile, “but if I could put my work into words, I wouldn’t have to do what I do.”

Maurland’s pottery is certainly not in need of many descriptive words. Her signature bright colors, animal motifs, and unique Scandinavian style is well-known and recognizable in this region and beyond. The now-Decorah resident has made art her life and her life-long career.

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Born and raised in Oslo, Norway, Maurland attended Luther College then went on to graduate school at Illinois State University and finally did a five-year apprenticeship at Genszler Stoneware Designs in Wisconsin… before she found herself right back in Decorah. She now has a sweet little pottery studio built behind her home (pictured at right, photo by Aryn Henning Nichols).

But how did she get from Olso to Decorah? “Growing up I wanted to travel. I was very interested in languages.” After high school, Maurland lived in Germany for a year, where she learned about an opportunity to study in the United States. She applied to Luther, and transitioned from Norway to “Little Norway”.

The intention was to study at Luther for a year. But plans change and life paths are altered. “Halfway through my first year I decided I wanted to stay, “ she says. By then she had also discovered the wheel and clay. While picking classes at Luther, on a whim she signed up for pottery. “I thought, ‘hey, this could be fun,’” she says. She never looked back.

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But it wasn’t as though the artist had never been exposed to such things before. Maurland’s father was an architect, and she remembers always enjoying art and design.

“One of Norway’s most famous modern art museums was close to my home growing up,” says Maurland. “I liked to look at art books, and took as many art classes as I could. I was exposed mostly to Norweigian art, Edvard Munch being one of them, but I loved the rococo styles from Renissance paintings.”

The swirls and ornate flourishes of her pots display this early affection.

“It’s unintended, but undoubtedly inspired,” she adds referencing the design on a greeting card called “Phoenix” (pictured below).

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“It took me a long time to find my own style. What I was exposed to in Norway was very different from the art I saw here,” she says. “I was confused as to what I liked. It took me years to discover what that was.”

And, interestingly, sometimes making something you don’t like helps direct you to what you do.

“In graduate school, I had a teacher who told us one day in class to draw the ugliest picture we could. And I couldn’t do it! This experience was important to me. As an artist, I had always tried so hard to make everything perfect – to please somebody else. That moment sticks with me to this day,” she says.

The residency at Gelzner Stoneware Designs further encouraged Maurland to think independently and develop her own style, although finding that niche didn’t come overnight.

“I didn’t really make anything artistically for about two years,” she said of to her time at Gelzner. “But then one day, I threw a few pots, and painted them – just with a few black flourishes and strokes of a paint brush. And it evolved from there.”

Incorporating animals into her designs also happened during her time in Wisconsin. “I lived in the middle of nowhere, and there were animals all around me. It came to me naturally. Animals are good vehicles to express emotion,” she says, pointing to a pot adorned with rabbits. “You can arrange them in different shapes, patterns, and designs, but when you’re done, they really still do look like rabbits. This gives me the opportunity to express really complex things.”

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And just as all Maurland’s pottery pieces are unique, all artist’s methods – or venues – of inspiration are different. “It doesn’t just come from one time or place.” An artist’s inspirations cannot be manufactured, she says, and don’t necessarily come with maturity.

“I have a six year old daughter [2011] who has a lot ideas [when it comes to art]. Sometimes I ask her if it’s hard to come up with new ideas. She tells me ‘sometimes’. Other times I ask her where here ideas come from. She tells me she gets her ideas for her new designs from her old designs. And that is exactly how I work.”

No matter what, Maurland tries to approach her pieces with an open mind and attempts to simply “do”. She continues to create pottery, selling at art shows and through her studio, and has extended her designs into greeting cards and with plans for textiles in the future.

“New ideas come from creating and creating and creating. When I come up with a new design, I repeat it. Each time, it gets better.”

To learn more about Maurland and her pottery, cards, and process, visit www.elisabethmaurland.com or visit her during the Northeast Iowa Artist Studio Tour.

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Susie Clark (most commonly known as Suz) is a 2010 graduate of Luther College, (Majors: Music, Communication studies, Flamenco dancing). When asked of her favorite animal, she promptly responds, “Oh, that’s easy: a Snipe”… (yes, they do exist).