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Birds and art to take flight

Carla Stetson’s “Ornithography” series, inspired by her years in northern Minnesota, is on display at the Anderson Center. She’ll be there for a public reception March 7.

By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor

Three artists with unique views of the environment will be at the Anderson Center Friday night to share their creations — and their viewpoints — with the public.

The reception will be at 7 p.m. in the Tower View main gallery, where artworks by former Minnesotan Carla Stetson are on display. Works by Twin Cities textile artists Carolyn Halliday and Kimber Olson can be seen in the historic barn.

Harpist Sarah Swan McDonald will perform throughout the evening.

“Natural Histories” is the theme for Stetson’s portion of the “Contexture” exhibit. A mixed media artist, she works in a broad range of techniques and media, from paper hybrids to large-scale installations.

Stetson was born in Chicago and teaches art at Ithaca College in New York, but for 20 years she lived in Duluth. While there she was commissioned to create three public sculptures, including the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. The first large-scale memorial for victims of a lynching in the U.S., it commemorates three young men who were killed in Duluth in 1920.

Works in the Red Wing exhibit include works inspired by her years living next to Hawk Ridge, an important flyway for migratory birds on Lake Superior. Every fall the bird-watching community migrates there, too, to count species and admire the birds.

“This series of mixed media prints, ‘Ornithography,’ comes from this fascination with birds and considers the complexity of this inter-species relationship,” Stetson said.

A “bird admirer” rather than a bird-watcher herself, Stetson thought to make collages. But when she began cutting pictures of birds out of a book of bird illustrations, she became intrigued what was left. Layers of bird-shaped spaces or “ghost images” appeared in the holes.

“These became a provocative ground to work with,” she wrote. She deconstructed and transformed the images, adding her own photographs and updating the environment. She likened the resulting works to “watchers and witnesses” to a world in which their wilderness habitats are shrinking.

Some of the birds serve as metaphors, as well. Stetson pointed to “The Vanished Cormorant,” a creature humans destroyed because the birds competed for fish. “Sometimes,” she added, “the titles are my little comments about the environment.”

Stetson’s return to Minnesota for this show came about because of a monthlong residency she spent two summers ago at the Anderson Center. “It was great,” she said — and very productive. Director Robert Hedin invited her back to exhibit her works.

Her interest in the environment is reflected in the show, Stetson said. In addition to the birds, she also has created works that explore such topics as invisible wind currents, flowing water and polar communities.

In some montages, she mixes up words and pictures.

“We humans are so aware of everything. It separates us from what’s out there,” she said. “Weaving in words combines us again, makes us unified.”

The other artists in the “Contexture” exhibit also have an environmental focus.

Olson began as a quilter then expanded her creations by developing her own fabric dyes and adding alternative materials such as Tyvek and bronze thread.

Halliday came to art via knitting. Her style evolved as she began knitting with wire and incorporating non-traditional materials including remnants from nature.

If you go …

What: Artist reception

Who: Carla Stetson, Kimber Olson, Carolyn Halliday

When: 7 p.m. March 7

Where: Anderson Center main gallery

Cost: Free

More info: 651-388-2009 or