Stories on canvas: Artist reception is Sunday for Petersen’s portrait project
WORTHINGTON — A Slayton native in the midst of wrapping up a dual degree in art education and studio art will have a series of her oil paintings on display at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington through mid-February.
An artist reception for Emily Petersen is planned from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the art center, located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building (library), 407 12th St. The public is invited to attend. Following the opening, people may view the exhibit during normal art center hours, from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, until Feb. 23.
Petersen is displaying seven larger-than-life portraits she painted during her last semester of studio art at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. The paintings represented her graduation show at SMSU, and were then displayed at art shows in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Slayton before coming to Worthington. Her next show will be in June at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council (MAFAC), featuring her works based on a 2011 mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
The portrait project was near and dear to Petersen’s heart as she worked to not only paint her subjects, but learn their stories.
“I feel like you can’t paint a portrait effectively until you know a person — to capture their spirit and their story,” she shared.
Petersen said her inspiration for the project came from social media.
“I think cell phones have destroyed our communication — and social media as well,” she said, admitting her stance is a bit unusual among fellow millennials. “I feel people are losing the art of talking face to face and being authentic.”
Social media can tempt people to compare their own successes and failures with those of other people, and Petersen said despite the intent of connecting people, the online platforms can cause great loneliness as well.
“It seems so bizarre with all the access to social media,” she added. “I kind of feel that so many others feel the same — they feel alone in this world despite the constant access to communicate with people.”
So, as she set out on her portrait project, Petersen began with social media — putting a request on Facebook in search of people to be willing subjects in her paintings. Hoping she’d be lucky to get enough volunteers to do a series of paintings, Petersen was overwhelmed when her post garnered more than 50 responses from willing individuals.
That’s when she went to work — meeting face to face with the people she chose for her paintings.
“I interviewed each of the people in the portraits,” she said, adding that she wanted to hear about their life experiences and their points of view at this time in their life. “It was interesting that all have some similarities in their stories. It was interesting how they were connected in the good things, but also in the bad.
“It also plays off of social media, how we’re always tempted to take pictures with filters and post all of the good things in life,” Petersen said. “My portraits are to show the good and the bad — which you’re not always going to get in social media.”
Petersen said the portraits are among the most difficult paintings she’s ever attempted, but she wants to continue with the project once her schedule provides more time.
She is currently student teaching in Granite Falls — the final requirement for her degree in art education from SMSU. Working alongside teacher and mentor Tammy Isfeld, she is leading art classes for first-, second-, sixth-, seventh- and ninth- through 12th-grade students.
Petersen’s path to teaching took her to three different college campuses, starting with Minnesota West Community and Technical College during her senior year of high school. As a post-secondary education option student, she enrolled in art classes led by Bobbi Alsgaard-Lien.
“She was really awesome and inspired me a lot while I was there,” Petersen said.
After graduating from high school, she took time off to concentrate on her art work, later pursuing studio art classes at Winona State University. She left there to return home and work as an artist, concentrating in pottery and painting. It wasn’t until she began teaching some one-on-one classes that she decided to go back to college and finish her studio art degree and earn an art education degree.