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Visiting artist 'connects with nature'

A woman explores the passageway through a Kelsie Ward creation that resembles a huge rock formation. Ward calls it “Unnatural Synthesis.” Photo by Phil Grondin

Kelsie Ward knows that she's a logical person, one who plans things out.

To her there it was logical, not simply impulsive, for her to decide one day that "I did not want to pursue what I was pursuing" in college.

The Cold Spring, Minn., native, who was in residence during October — the final month in the 2017 season — at the Anderson Center, was a senior at the College of St. Benedict when she realized that her degree in economics and psychology could not be the end of her education.

A "Positive Psychology" class only reinforced her feeling that she had a different path to pursue. "I started to pay attention to what's important in my life, and what's important is art," she explained.

"As a kid I was always sort of a maker," Ward said — mud pies and tree forts and even igloos in winter. Later, as a student, she enjoyed the tactility of working with clay or ceramics.

Ward began looking at her options and found a post-bachelor's degree program at Southern Illinois University near St. Louis. "I've been there ever since," she said.

She started out as a clay artist, creating small environments that she installed in or on different larger objects.

"I built a large piece with the intention of putting clay onto it," Ward said. "Essentially, I did not feel that it needed the clay." Instead, she became an installation artist who creates large objects she described as "immersive sculptural pieces."

They're immersive, she explained, because "you become part of the work and experience it in all dimensions with all the senses."

Ward's large-scale works, inspired by her travels to Iceland, resemble rock and glacier formations.

"I connect with nature," she said. "Nature has been my most significant inspiration." In this increasingly technological society, she addresses "what nature is and what nature is not, by displacing and presenting artificially constructed, natural forms indoors."

When people encounter her current work, they get to decide — should they walk around it, stoop under it or go right through it.

"I like watching people interact with my work," Ward said — especially which path they choose. Because she also incorporates some two-dimensional elements, the viewer may also have to decide whether to jump over a flat image, or tiptoe around it. Usually, she said, "People refuse to walk on it." They've been taught not to touch art.

While at the Anderson Center, Ward spent a lot of her time in a welding studio creating steel panels that will become a geometric wall piece. Perspective will affect the way people view the installation.

She has spent considerable time experimenting with the surface, and also took time during her month here to work on some paintings/drawings that are actually shallow relief sculptures created through layering.

That's been the real boon of an Anderson Center residency for Ward. "Beyond space and time," she said, Tower View influences an artist in a way that encourages the creation of new work and the pursuit of challenges.

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