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Can Lake Pepin regain 'Utopian' status?

Maris Gilbert’s paintings in the “Utopian Islands of Lake Pepin” — including “Upstream Runoff” — depict water, earth and spirit. The exhibit opening is 5-7 p.m. Sept. 28, 2018, at the Red Wing Arts Depot Gallery.

An interactive reception on Sept. 28 will mark the opening of "Utopian Islands of Lake Pepin," a new exhibit presented by Red Wing Arts in collaboration with the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.

The reception will be 5-7 p.m. at the Depot Gallery, where the exhibit will remain on display until Nov. 11.

Three artists who share a concern for the environment — and specifically for Lake Pepin — were invited to participate in the exhibit, said Red Wing Arts Executive Director Emily Guida Foos.

Twin Cities artists Deborah Foutch, Linda Snouffer and Maris Gilbert all embrace the habitat restoration process embraced by the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.

The alliance is spearheading a restoration project to rejuvenate the area that is most affected by sedimentation. The group hopes that conservation practices will improve water clarity, create/restore fish and wildlife habitat and increase recreational access in upper Lake Pepin.

Those goals will be accomplished by using dredge material from backwater bays to construct new islands, a process that has been successful elsewhere on the Mississippi River.

That's where the "Utopian Islands of Lake Pepin" comes into play, Foos said.

"Utopia" was the name Sir Thomas More gave to his book about an imaginary island where everything was perfect.

"Lake Pepin is not a Utopia," Lacy Schumman pointed out. Schumann is the newly named program coordinator for Red Wing Arts.

While most people view the area as a beautiful area for recreation and wildlife, the lake is experiencing economic, social and environmental issues stemming from excess nutrients and sedimentation.

"We want to increase awareness of what's happening," Schumann said, in hopes that a more utopian Lake Pepin can be achieved.

That hope is just a dream now, but perhaps by focusing on the extreme, she said, "it can be an attainable dream for the future."

The artwork created by the three artists in the exhibition depicts elements of the environment in different ways. Taken as a whole, the exhibit employs a visual language to illuminate the science of healthy water, soil and plant systems.

Foutch's work, focusing on soil and water, uses layers of materials and a combination of fiber, painting and printing techniques to depict the living world.

In a recent interview in the Northeaster community newspaper, Foutch commented, "Art starts a conversation that needs to happen." The daughter of a scientist/naturalist, she applies that passion from her early life to her art today.

Botanical printmaker Snouffer, whose techniques involve printing directly from fresh grasses, told that newspaper "I hear the clock ticking" as the plants grow.

Gilbert explores water, earth and spirit in her current work. "I am particularly interested in shorelines," she said in an artist statement. "To me, they represent where elements interface, overlap and intersect. ... It is my hope that my work sparks some awareness of the beauty, and ultimately to the care, of our shorelines."

In Minnesota, that means "seeing beauty and peril through exploring and learning about freshwater mussels, trees, plants, sediment, erosion and the history/future of our rivers, lakes and wetlands."

At Friday night's opening, the three artists will share their passion for preserving the land by making the event interactive for all who come. "They're naturalists. That's part of their message," Foos explained.

Pour a river diorama

Foutch will create a river diorama that will illustrate how sediment travels in water and what slows its progress. Visitors will see how pigments suspended in water and a binder move in much the same way.

Weather permitting, her demonstration project will be set up outdoors, Foos said. It involves a plywood box painted and sealed with absorbent "shorelines." People at the event will be invited to pour fluid paints from the shores and in the stream bed, illustrating how the colors mix and flow.

People also will be able to use slips of absorbent paper to make a water print by dipping into the pooled paint.

The diorama will become part of the exhibit.

Snouffer also will demonstrate her art. People will be invited to ink and print with plants on small cards that they can take home.

In addition, Foos said, the alliance's executive director, Rylee Main, will have a storyboard and materials representing the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.

The exhibit and its focus reflect the new direction Red Wing Arts is taking to become "relevant and interesting to the public," Foos said. Future collaborations are being explored to continue the community conversation.

The Sept. 28 opening reception also is an opportunity for people to meet Foos, who has been named executive director of Red Wing Arts after serving as interim director. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, call 651-388-7569 or email info@redwingarts.org.

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