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Exploring the creative process: Exhibition of works by writers, artists, musicians

Fragments of an installation piece, “Babel Library,” by Vesna Kittelson will be on display. The work is a visual plea for world peace. one of the works in "There is a Ladder" exhibit at the Anderson Center.1 / 2
Gaylord Shanilec will show part of his collection of images created for a new book, “My Mighty Journey,” which is told from the perspective of St. Anthony Falls. Part of "There is a Ladder" exhibit, this one is a fragment from a trial proof. 2 / 2

Paintings and books, symphonies and other artistic creations are not spontaneous things that emerge fully-formed from the hands and minds of the artist/writer/musician.

Creativity is a process — one that often involves failure and disappointment.

That process is the focus of a new exhibition opening Oct. 6 at the Anderson Center. "There Is a Ladder: Reaching for the Unknown" explores how the creative process worked for 20 local and international luminaries.

"This exhibition honors the scribbles, mistakes, and doubts that are part of creative journeys," said Cate Whittemore, a contemporary fine artist and scenic artist who now makes her home in Red Wing. She curated the exhibit.

The concept for the show has been incubating in her mind for a long time, Whittemore said. She recently found in her own papers a middle school report she wrote about "where ideas come from."

It reminded her that she has always found sketches and painters' palettes to be "almost as beautiful" as the finished product.

Sketches and scribbles, to her, represent "creativity in the process."

Beethoven started working on his Ninth Symphony, for example, in 1793. It was finished in 1822, and was first performed in 1824, after years of "incubating."

Whittemore, who has twice been an artist in residence at the Anderson Center, approached Executive Director Christopher Burawa two years ago about curating an exhibition around the working notebooks of artists and scientists — "those pages where ideas and creativity are initially tested," Burawa said.

"Cate was the person to undertake this task because of her wide and accomplished artistic experiences and deep interest in other art forms and disciplines," he added, describing the result as "an exceptional show about the nature of discovery within the arts and sciences."

Cate Whittemore curated “There Is a Ladder,” an exhibition at Red Wing’s Tower View that explores the creative process.

Whittemore collected sketches, manuscripts, maps, diagrams, schematic drawings and more — "ideas in the formative stages of important inventions, literature, visual art, architecture, archeology and music, in order to follow the flickering invitation of an idea to its realization.

"It is a sublime effort guided by intuition, for which there is no formula, no map, no guarantee."

She titled the show "There Is a Ladder," which is a line from the Adrienne Rich poem "Diving into the Wreck," because it "evokes the investigation and discovery of the creative process," she said.

"Delving into the unknown is an aspect of original creative work in a wide array of arts disciplines, including the sciences. To follow this gleam of an idea to its eventual realization requires a sustained leap of faith."

She added, "People should be more forgiving of themselves and their mistakes."

Among the 20 individuals represented in the exhibit are novelist Louise Erdrich, storyteller Kevin Kling, British painter Suzette Clough, filmmaker Phillip Docken, printmaker Fred Hagstrom, composer Wayne Horvitz, artist/inventor Diane Katsiaficas and others.

British painter and psychologist Suzette Clough is represented by an array of “paint medicine” images and journals.

Included in the exhibit will be experimental machines and notes of Dr. A.P. Anderson, inventor and "ancestral founder" of Tower View estate, and his grandson, award-winning poet Robert Hedin, along with the center's printer-in-residence, Scott King.

Whittemore is a participant as well as the curator. She has collaboratively painted and created scenery for movies, television and Broadway hits, including the currently running "The Book of Mormon." Her images also are widely collected and exhibited, and she makes annual teaching excursions to Greece.

A public reception will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 in the historic barn. Whittemore will present an artist talk around 8 p.m.

The exhibition will remain on display through Nov. 30. People can view it without charge Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call the Anderson Center at 651-388-2009 or go online to