ArtSee: A night of art and conversation

What could be better than 12 talented  local artists showing work at one of my favorite places in Grand Forks?  Last Friday, the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals held their ninth annual ArtSee event at The Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks. The event showcases local artists who work with a variety of mediums including paint, clay, diaries and sticky notes, among others. Some artists demonstrated their techniques and art form. Others encouraged attendees to join in the fun and make their own art. But, all were welcoming and enthusiastic to share their artwork with Grand Forks.

Artwork by Hillary Kempenich is displayed at the Empire for ArtSee.

Artwork by Hillary Kempenich is displayed at the Empire for ArtSee.

While I made my first round through the center, I stopped to take some photos and watch legendary Grand Forks artist Adam Kemp work on his painting.

Artist Adam Kemp works on a painting during ArtSee.

Artist Adam Kemp works on a painting during ArtSee.

I also stopped to visit with Ellen Dean Diederich from Fargo, N.D., who was working on an acrylic painting of flowers. She said she typically works off of photographs because then she doesn’t have to worry about her subject moving or the lighting changing. She focuses on flowers, farm animals and nature.

Ceramic sculptor Caitlin Friedt shared her process for making her cups, plates, bowls and sunflowers. First, she throws them on the wheel. Then, she adds the details. She said she uses various pins and objects to create texture on the flowers. Then, she fires them in the kiln. After they cool, she can glaze them and fire them again. She said they vary rarely break in the kiln, but she never knows how they will turn out. She said they usually shrink about 15 percent and different glazes will create completely different looks.

Artist Sue Burke encouraged attendees to create miniature pieces of artwork on sticky notes to display at her ArtSee booth.

Artist Sue Burke encouraged attendees to create miniature pieces of artwork on sticky notes to display at her ArtSee booth.

Artist Sue Burke invited guests over to her table to create mini pieces of artwork on sticky notes, which she then hung with clothes pins for everyone to see. She said you don’t need expensive arts supplies to create artwork, office sticky notes will do just fine. And, you won’t feel guilty when you mess up and throw them away.

Along my way, I also had the opportunity to finally meet Michelle Brusegaard, who I had interviewed over the phone for a story a while back. I introduced myself, and she (and her mom) was super friendly. It took me a while to take in everything at her booth; she had so many beautiful prints, cards, scarves and original paintings. I was most drawn to her pieces that incorporated journal entries. I asked it they were real journal entries, and she said yes, but not mine. She collects diaries and this particular one she found on eBay. She said the lady lived alone and was obsessed with entering sweepstakes. Michelle took the journal entries and used them as inspiration for her pieces. I ended up buying two!


Michelle Brusegaard’s artwork incorporates a journal entry from the 1980s.

Michelle Brusegaard's print was inspired by a journal entry about art supplies.

Michelle Brusegaard’s print was inspired by a journal entry about art supplies.

Aren’t they lovely?

I also ended up with one of Courtney Jacob’s pieces. I fell in love with Courtney’s floral pieces at the This is Personal exhibition at Blue Door, so I was excited to meet the artist behind the work. She recently moved from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, so I told her we were swapping places. She shared some advice for getting involved in the art community in the Twin Cities, and I wished her luck here in Grand Forks. But, she already seems to be off to a wonderful start. I was about to buy her beautiful piece of tulips, until I saw a city scene tucked away in her box. I couldn’t pass up on “Winter in Central Park.”


I snagged Courtney Jacob’s piece “Winter in Central Park.”

Artist Katie Lee had some absolutely gorgeous impressionist paintings of sailboats. I asked her if she had a special connection to sailboats, but she said she just lived in Seattle and developed a love for the sailboats. Who wouldn’t? They’re beautiful.


Katie Lee’s artwork was inspired by the sailboats she always saw on the shore in Seattle.

To end the night, Jazz on Tap performed some wonderful music for the Empire’s Backstage Project.


Jazz on Tap performs after ArtSee at the Empire Art Center.

Overall, it was a wonderful night full of local art and great conversation. If you missed it, be sure to check out more about the event and all the artists here.

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‘Wonder of the World’ gets my laugh

Lois Coleman (Christa Weiler) and Cass Harris (Abby Schoenborn) perform a scene from “Wonders of the World” at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend The Empire Theatre Company’s production of “Wonder of the World.” The dark comedy is about a woman who suddenly leaves her husband after discovering a dark (but harmless) secret he’s been hiding. Inspired by the Marilyn Monroe film “Niagara,” she hops on a bus and heads to Niagara Falls, where she hopes to cross off all the items on her bucket list. Along the way, she meets a suicidal alcoholic, who becomes a quick friend. I won’t give away too much, but it’s definitely one to see. The writer David Lindsay-Abaire does an excellent job of weaving real-life messages and questions into the unrealistic happenings of the play.

I have to admit I was a little confused as to whether or not I should laugh at the beginning. The characters are all going through some serious stuff: one is leaving her husband, the other is about to commit suicide. Yet, they are all very over-the-top and dramatic, which makes it hilarious. After all, it’s a farce. So, if you go to the play tonight or tomorrow, don’t be afraid to laugh. And be warned, it only gets funnier as the show progresses.

For more info about “Wonder of the World,” read my story in the Grand Forks Herald. (We have a completely new website!)

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In the Studio w/ Guillermo Guardia


A couple of months ago, I interviewed ceramic sculptor Guillermo Guardia about his artwork. I was so inspired by his story and how he overcame the challenges of sculpting a perfect human body by sculpting bodies made of puzzle pieces. The new subject was symbolic of his journey.

When we finished the interview, Guillermo extended an open invitation for me to visit his studio and try the craft for myself. How could I pass up an opportunity to see a talented artist in action and learn hands-on about his process?

I couldn’t.

As the arts and entertainment reporter for the Herald, I often speak to artists about their inspiration and process. But after the interview, I’m always left craving something more. And this was it — my missing piece. I needed to see the artist in action.

And after much planning, I’m excited to present the first episode of “In the Studio,” a monthly Web series where we take you in the studio with area artists to show you a behind-the-scenes look at their craft and workspace.

Each month, we’ll visit another artist’s workspace, and I’ll share my hands-on experience with the new art form.

Since Guillermo’s offer sparked the idea, I thought it would only make sense for him to be the first artist.

Working with clay

Sitting in Muddy Waters Clay Center, Guillermo handed me a wad of clay. It was tough, damp and intimidating.He said we would make a dog and a llama, and I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t be too difficult.

I reminded myself that Guillermo typically taught children, so it couldn’t be too difficult, right?


I circled clumps of clay in my hand trying to form two round balls — one for the head and one for the body. While Guillermo made his effortlessly, I struggled to smooth out the lumps. As soon as I had smoothed one side, I’d pushed the opposite side out of whack. I laughed. I didn’t have time to get it right. I set aside my uneven pieces and moved on to the legs.

Rolling a slab of clay between my hand and the table, I thought back to making snakes out of Play-doh as a kid. “Why couldn’t we make snakes,” I thought. “I could handle that.”

I wondered how this long snake-like piece would become legs, but Guillermo quickly explained. We tore the long piece into four even parts. That was the goal anyhow; mine were all different sizes. Turns out, I’m not too great with dimensions.

I started putting my lopsided dog together. Again, I struggled while Guillermo worked with ease. We made two flat pancake-like circles for floppy ears and a little nub for a tail. When it all came together, I laughed and tried to see the dog in my jumbled cluster.

Next, we tackled the llama. “Great,” I thought, “even more pieces to struggle with.”

But, with one animal under my belt, the llama came together more smoothly.

The pieces were similar to that of the dog, except slightly different in size. I tried attaching the legs, but they weren’t stable. Guillermo offered to help, and I watched his hands as he worked. His fingers molded the clay proficiently.

Sculpting was second nature to Guillermo. He didn’t think; he just let his hands move and transform the clay.

He handed me my llama and with his kind heart he assured me that it was fine. I finished the face and tail. Then, we used a small sculpting tool to poke holes for the eyes and make lines along the body for the fur.

This time when we finished, I saw a llama, albeit slightly disfigured. I was proud of my little guy. We also made a tiny penguin with big eyes and angry eye brows, which turned out quite cute. With each piece we made, I gained more confidence, and I was able to relax and enjoy the process.

Despite my inability to form accurately proportioned smooth shapes, I had fun molding the clay and learning from Guillermo.

If we had more time, we could have fired the figures in the ceramic kiln and painted them. But, Guillermo said if I let them dry they would last forever as long as they weren’t knocked over. So, I thanked Guillermo for the tour and the lesson, grabbed my little figures and made my way back to the office.

The puppy fell apart in my hands. But, my surviving llama, Fernando, and penguin, Frankie, sit on my desk reminding me that art is not about perfection — it’s about experience.

First published in the Grand Forks Herald, Jan. 17.

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Mathieu Nicklay at Blue Door Gallery

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the opening of Mathieu Nicklay’s first art exhibit ever, which took place at the Blue Door Gallery in downtown Grand Forks. Nicklay started painting last March. All his friends were artists and he thought I think I can do that. So, he tried, and he succeeded.


Nicklay’s first exhibit is a collection of multimedia abstract and symbolic pieces, which incorporate everything from scrap pieces of wood and old doors, to paint and chalk, to a melted iron. While some pieces are very minimal and symbolic, leaving the interpretation up to the viewer, others scream a strong message.

I love how Nicklay jumped into the art scene and wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and go somewhere unknown. In conservative North Dakota, Nicklay took a chance creating and displaying his abstract artwork that to some might seem a little “out there” and “nonsensical.” I just hope people will open up their minds and just “feel” the artwork and let it speak to them in one way or another.

Nicklay will be one of three artists in the second episode of “In the Artist’s Studio,” my monthly web series which premieres this Friday. For the second episode, I will be going to Blue Door Gallery to create a piece of work with artists Mathieu Nicklay, Kathryn Fink and Matthew Borgerson. I’m not sure what we’ll make, but I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to see these young artists in action.

As I mentioned, “In the Artist’s Studio” will premiere this Friday on It’s been in the works for a long time, and I’m overjoyed to finally see it all come together. I think this is going to be a great monthly video feature, and I really hope you all enjoy it.

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Here, there and everywhere

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my stories on the blog, but I’ve been doing a lot of fun things lately. I figured it was time for a quick update, so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to in no particular order:

  • I visited Altru Hospital and met a couple caring nurses who were trying their best to make the holidays a cheerful time for their patients. Melissa, the childlife specialist, took on a little project with the ever-so-popular Elf on the Shelf. She refused to take credit for the little elf named Elfie. “He just showed up,” she said, creating some holiday magic for the children in the pediatrics unit. To read more about their efforts, click here.
  • I chatted with Steven Grant Douglas about his journey from The Empire in Grand Forks to Broadway. The talented actor from Stephen, Minn., landed a lead role in the nationally touring production of “Ghost the Musical” right after performing “Avenue Q” in Grand Forks. We talked about his role, the tour and adjusting to the much larger audiences and life on the road. Read more here.
  • I visited with Rachael Hammarback, owner of RH Standard, about the best choices in winter work wear. We talked tights, boots and leggings. Yes, leggings as pants for work. More here.
  • I joined a group of charitable carolers as they sang holiday favorites to neighbors and friends for Caroling for Warmth. They raised money for people in need of warm clothes such as sweaters and long sleeve shirts. More here.
  • I talked to Ashok Bhatia, of India, and Omar Alomar, of Iraq, about how they celebrate the holidays and how their traditions differ from American traditions. To read more, view the full article here.
  • I visited with several boutique owners about the best New Year’s Eve fashion accessories. We discussed statement necklaces, sequins blazers and cocktail rings. More here.
  • I joined a group of regular trivia-goers for a night at El Roco. While there I met “the king of trivia” and learned about the history of the game in Grand Forks. More here.
  • I reviewed a ton of apps such as 99 Dresses, Lift and Circle.
  • And I met a couple stylish people along the way to do quick Q&A’s with for my weekly Street Style.

This month, I’m excited to share my first episode of my new video series “In the Artist’s Studio.” I’ll be back with more on that later.

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Barton’s Place


Surrounded by hundreds of art from around the world, I tried to take it all in. I imagined spending hours and hours chatting with the artist Barton Benes about his collections. He’d share stories of each piece of art, where it came from and how he acquired it through a trade with a collector, dealer or artist in another country.

Instead, I sat at his table and chatted with his long time friend, Laurel Reuter, director of the North Dakota Museum of Art. The two had met many years before and had shared many conversations over the same table when it was in Barton’s New York apartment. After Barton’s death in May 2012, the table and the artist’s many collections traveled 1,500 miles to be a part of Barton’s Place, a recreation of the artist’s apartment in the Mezzanine Gallery at North Dakota Museum of Art.


Laurel told me how some of the pieces came to be… the stuffed rooster came from the museum assistant director, Matthew Wallace… the bull’s head came from a bull in the Running of the Bulls in Spain… the African pots and masks were acquired from a dealer… As she looked around the small space full of Barton’s life and memories, Laurel recalled a curious man, who could always make her laugh, even in the darkest of times. She remembered a conversation the two of them had about his belongings and what would happen to them when he passed. He didn’t want them to be picked our by family and friends and thrown out. Laurel suggested giving them to the museum to create the museum’s first period room, a 21st century artist’s studio. Laurel said the suggestion became a dream Barton held on to. 

Now, that dream is a reality. The North Dakota Museum of Art opened Barton’s Place early this month. It’ll be on exhibit for an undetermined amount of time, with the hopes of turning it into a permanent exhibit. For more information on the exhibition, read my full article at or visit


Along with Barton’s Place, a collection of African pots and a batik exhibition are also going on at the museum. Be sure to check it all out before it’s too late!


And, James Rosenquist’s beautiful painting, “Through the Eye of the Needle to the Anvil” is STILL up! DO NOT MISS this one! The photo does NOT do it justice! Trust me!

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The Ska-Skank Redemption

I had the pleasure of interviewing and photographing the guys of The Ska-Skank Redemption a couple weeks ago. They’re great guys with a lot of talent. If you’re in Fargo this weekend, be sure to check them out at Spirit’s Lounge. You can also follow them on Twitter and Like them on Facebook. They also recently released their first ep “Wicked Bees,” which you can check out on Spotify, Bandcamp or iTunes.

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‘A Chorus Line’

Every time I complete a new assignment at the Herald, I’m surprised by how much I’ve learned. Yesterday, I went to UND’s production of “A Chorus Line.” I will be honest and say I wasn’t all that excited for the play. That was until I got to the Burtness Theater and interviewed two of the student actors, Jackie and Patrick. From the moment they sat down for the interview, I could see the passion in their eyes and hear it in their voices.

They told me about the play, their deep emotional connections to their characters, Cassie and Paul, and the history behind it all. I’ll save the details for the story, which will print Friday in Accent.

After the interviews, I went into the theater, which was nearly empty as it was the first dress rehearsal, and I waited for the show to begin.

From the moment the lights came on and 25 nervous dancers filled the stage, I was captivated. I’m sure the fact that I was basically the only one in the audience made it a little more dramatic, but it was incredible. I couldn’t believe how real It all felt. My heart started racing when the director called the names of the people who were being cut. And when the dancers were on the floor broken hearted over just the thought of not being able to dance again, my heart hurt too.

I don’t typically get emotional during plays or movies, but there’s something different about “A Chorus Line.” It’s as if you’re watching these actors real-life audition process with all the pain, excitement and anxiety. It’s terrifying and beautiful, and I absolutely love it.

I didn’t get enough with the play last night so I looked up the documentary about the 2008 revival of the show and watched it tonight. Again, it was so captivating.

The play has a great story behind it and a lot of history packed it. Each of the characters is based off a real life dancer in the industry and many of the lines are from real dialogue that took place in the 1970s during a workshop.

To learn more about the musical, watch for my story at on Friday. If you’re in Grand Forks, be sure to check out UND’s production, which opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 23 at the Burtness Theater.

Passing on knowledge, excitement for the arts

Early last week I was asked to write a story for Saturday’s City/State section. Although I was a little stressed to have another assignment added to my list, I was excited to write another story about my favorite place in Grand Forks: The North Dakota Museum of Art. I wrote the preview story for the museum’s 15th annual live Autumn Art Auction, which was held this Saturday  with 56 original pieces of artwork up for bid.

When I made an appointment with Laurel, the director of the museum, I expected to have a quick interview about the auction in her office downstairs. But, when I got to the museum, Laurel met me in the gallery and showed me the artwork. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to write about every piece in the auction, she still took the time to tell me each of the artists’ stories and the story behind their work.

It always amazes me how kind and helpful Laurel is when I come for a story. Not only does she give me all the information I need for the article, but she teaches me so much more about the artwork and the artists. Every time I leave her office, she gives me a new book (or two, or three), and I couldn’t be more thankful. Her passion and excitement for the arts has made me want to know more and more. And the more I learn and the more I write about the arts the more passionate I become about the arts. I think I’m getting closer and closer to discovering what I’m truly meant to do in this life.

It’s funny how when I start something new I expect to enjoy a certain part of it, but something always seems to surprise me in the best way. When I got my job at the Herald, I was super excited about my Life & Style beat. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about the Arts & Entertainment part of my job. After all, I didn’t know much about the arts. I never took many art classes. I didn’t sing or paint or draw. I was never involved in theater, and I quit band as soon as I possibly could. I always had a great appreciation for music. I enjoyed going to plays. And, I was always amazed by talented artists, but I never saw myself as an artsy person. I guess I just didn’t know enough about it to care all that much. 

But, after a few months on the job, I’ve been fully immersed into the art community in Grand Forks, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m learning so much and meeting some awesome, inspiring people and hopefully sharing it all with the Herald readers in an entertaining and informative way that gets them excited and passionate about the arts.

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Emma Katka: ‘I just want them to feel something’

When I met Emma Katka for an interview in May at Urban Stampede, it was obvious the 21-year-old artist was going places. With bright pink hair and extravagant makeup, Katka sat and talked to me about her artwork. She had been chosen as one of three emerging artists for the Grand Cities Art Festival, and I remember her saying she was nervous about the event and kind of freaked out that people would be reading about her in the paper.

But, more than that, I remember her response when I asked her what she wanted to get out of the event, what she hoped to accomplish from being a part of the festival. I was expecting an answer about selling her pieces or getting her name out there. Instead, she paused and her voice changed from one of a nervous young adult to one of a passionate artist. “I just want them to feel something,” she said. “I want them to feel an emotion from one of my pieces.”

That’s when I realized this was someone who was going to go places with her artwork. I got back to the office and wrote a full story about the inspiring artist I’d just met, which I unfortunately had to cut down to a short five-inch vignette. A week later, I pitched a story about the artist to my editor. Katka had mentioned her abandoned house adventures, and I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of that and tell her story. My editor loved the idea, so I began talking with Katka about the possibility of accompanying her on an adventure.

She obliged, and we spent several months working out a time and date. When we finally figured out a time I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait. I’d never been in an abandoned house and didn’t know what to expect.

I hopped in the car with Emma and her photographer friend Kristin Berg. We set out on Highway 2, heading west toward Devils Lake. We drove for about 30 minutes before Emma said, “OK start looking… This is where it gets serious.”

Kristin pulled out her camera and looked across the fields, scoping out any possible abandoned houses. Emma pointed to her left and said, “There’s one over there.” She explained that it wasn’t that great and that she’d become picky since realizing she has a “sixth sense” for spotting abandoned houses.

We pulled off on a gravel road and continued driving for several miles before Emma recognized a familiar set of trees and remembered a house she’d visited before. When we finally pulled up to the house, I got butterflies in my stomach.

They grabbed the camera equipment, and we headed inside the house. Behind the door with broken windows, the ceiling lay in pieces on the floor. As I carefully made my way through the rubble, chills ran down my spine.

Emma asked me to slip on her vintage lace dress and directed me while she worked her magic. I held up a broken mirror and looked at my reflection. I was posing for a photograph but I felt transported back in time.

Looking at Emma’s finished artwork, I barely recognize myself. I don’t see the photographs as pictures of me but rather powerful artwork that convey emotion and tell a dark, sad story.

I am extremely blessed and thankful to have had the opportunity to not only go on an abandoned house exploration with Emma but actually be a part of creative process. To learn more about Emma’s creative experience photographing abandoned houses, read the full story here, or to hear more about my personal experiences in the abandoned house, read my column here.

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