How to Buy Art, or Not.

Several weeks ago I went to a visual arts event in Northeast Minneapolis (aka Nordeast) that has grown to be quite the popular cultural weekend in Minneapolis. At Art-A-Whirl hundreds of studios in warehouses spread around the neighborhood open their doors to the public and hundreds, actually thousands, spend a weekend strolling from one to another, taking in the wide array of forms and styles.

Of course, virtually all of it is for sale.

If that sounds cynical, re-read it. It’s not. It’s a good thing. Artists need to and deserve to be paid for their work, and paying artists (of any genre) is not a cut-and-dried method. I think it’s wonderful that these painters, photographers, sculptors, etc., use the group dynamic they have to bring people in and I hope many of them rested easier this month knowing the rent on that studio is paid.

My few hours at ArtAWhirl were spent on a rainy, steamy Saturday. The hallways and stairwells were crowded, people squeezed past others to get to things, or to get out, and everywhere was the fear of knocking something over or off a wall. Several studios put out snacks or treats, so we nibbled our way down one hallway.

We had been in the market for a painting to hang over our new fireplace. We were hoping for something colorful, and possibly relating to the north shore of Lake Superior, a favorite destination of ours. We wanted something that would work well on the muted, but colorful stone facade. I had done a little homework and had identified a number of artists in a couple building whose work might be right and that I wanted to visit. Not too realistic, but not too abstract, types of things.

We saw some great and fascinating pieces, and if I had the money and space I’d have bought at least ten paintings. I’d find something I like and my partner would be kind of “meh” about it. Or vice versa. When we stopped in Douglas Ross‘ studio we found things we both liked. Colorful images of the rocky shore of that Great Lake. We considered sever, agreed to both liking the look and size of a particular one, we moved on with a “we can stop back if we decide we want it….”

Half hour later we were back.

We met the painter, with whom we surprisingly had a lot in common. The painting is of a sunny day, at a point, he tells us, in Lutsen. We buy it.

We chat as he wraps it safely for us, then places it in a plastic bag for extra protection from the possible rain. We pay buy by check, directly to him. We shake hands and go off with our original painting.

When we get home we immediately unwrap it and place it above the fireplace and step back.

There’s a pause. We both contemplate.

One of us finally says, “Well, that doesn’t work there.”

We thought we found the perfect companion to that wall of colorful stone, but we hadn’t. It was too much, too busy, too overwhelming. The good news is that it looks terrific on the colors of either the dining room or the living room walls. And that’s where it’ll hang.

Luckily it made us realize just what it was about the painting we liked and what it was that didn’t work, giving us guidelines as to what we should buy for that special place. This discovery was remedied weeks later, up North, in its own special way. (I’ll share that later.)

Owning original art feels great, and buying it directly from the artist even better.

Autumn hits the north shore

North Shore Lake Superior, October 2010

This was taken standing out on the rocks along the shore near Grand Marais, Minn. I was facing the sun, experimenting with shadows and direct light. Then I adjusted the sharpness, boosted and removed some color, eliminating the sun flare but turning it all silver and black, which is how the lake really looked. And using a multi-frame shooting mode I was able to capture one of the big sprays.

Recharging my batteries

Sometimes getting out of town can be a peaceful and relaxing way to be get re-energized, and being in a beautiful natural setting can be really refreshing. We’ve left town for a few days and headed up to the north shore of Lake Superior – one of my favorite places. I grew up alongside another great lake, and as a child we vacationed in fishing country, and I’ve always been drawn to lakes.


This lake, Lake Superior, is amazingly beautiful at times. Right now, it’s a picture perfect shade of blue, and mostly

calm with just a few little whitecaps appearing here and there in various places. The sky is clear of any clouds, and there’s a slight breeze.

Earlier this afternoon we went for a short hike in the woods, alongside a creek. I brought my camera along and snapped various pics of the little falls, the rapids, a moss covered bench. Just different things that I thought might make an interesting picture. They’re ok. Unfortunately I discovered my batteries were going low, and only about half the pictures turned out to be on the card when finally looked at them.


This is an old shed-like structure we spotted as we returned to the lodge’s grounds. It’s actually still in use. That’s why the door’s open. I love old, decrepit buildings like this, and try to snap pictures of such places when I can. They have their own history and value. I imagine how excited or proud the person who built it was when it was finished, and what a great addition it was to the property or business.

Being up here in the north woods is its own kind of inspiring locale. I always feel compelled to write some fiction novel, full of the people I meet in the shops and restaurants in these small towns. I always wonder about some of them – like the guy who stopped off at the general store to buy bait, and left his truck running and his baby daughter in the cab. I was waiting in the car (ironically, because we weren’t going to leave our dog alone in the car while shopping) and I wasn’t even aware there was something there until he spoke baby talk about the minnows and worms and said, “I’ll be right back” and went in to the liquor store for a case of beer. There are tourists coming through town, people you don’t know, and you leave your truck running and the kid inside? Guess we’re not in the city anymore. Then there’s the waiter at Angry Trout, a dockside restaurant. I’ve been coming here long enough to know he’s no townie just by listening to him talk. What’s he doing here? What’s his story? And there’s the guy who just this moment walked past my window. Probably mid-50s, wearing hiking boots, khaki shorts, and a bright green, long-sleeve dress shirt.

I’m sure any story I could write about these people would be horrible, boring, trite stuff, like some horror flick. And I’m no Stephen King. Of course, the only way it would work would be if I could live up here for about six months straight—not really an option.

So I’ll settle for coming up a few times a year to be recharged, and re-inspired by nature.