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Paynter found her niche in the arts community

Artist Maggie Paynter of Red Wing enjoys one of her own paintings at home. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

Editor's note: This story is part of the Republican Eagle 2018 Progress Edition showcasing area students, staff and seniors. Find the rest of the series here.

Creativity is more than a career for Maggie Paynter.

A painter by vocation, she has devoted a big chunk of her life to the arts and arts organizations.

"That's how you nourish your life," Paynter explained.

But her passion for being creative has always extended beyond the traditional concept of "work." It extends to gardening, cooking, sewing — and definitely, volunteering.

Paynter was born in Austin, Minn., and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Minnesota State University-Mankato. She and her husband, Scott, moved several times because of his work, but she always managed get involved in the community.

Often younger people say they don't have the time to volunteer, Paynter said, "but when I was their age I found the time."

She remembers how it all started for her, back in the 1980s. Paynter was a studio artist doing commercial and fine art, plus she worked part time in marketing at the West Central Tribune newspaper in Willmar.

She got involved with a group that started an artist cooperative, Mill Pond Mercantile, in nearby New London. It was a success in generating income for the artists and attracting tourists.

"In the mid-1980s the art fair scene really exploded," Paynter pointed out. It also saw a boom in craft shops.

Her husband got a job in Virginia, Minn., so they moved to the Iron Range. She went to a lot of art fairs and exhibited her work in galleries and at shows.

Not long after she relocated there, a man came up to her at a show and started talking about plans for a new nonprofit being formed to rehabilitate an old opera house the group had just bought. They wanted to develop visual as well as performance arts, he said.

"I told him I thought it was a great concept," Paynter said. Soon after, she found herself on the board of the Laurentian Arts & Culture Alliance.

The 1912 building had been converted to a movie theater, but it "still had the trappings of the opera houses," she said. A plan was developed for a combination of rental, retail and gallery spaces to provide revenue for restoration. "They're still working at it."

She also did fundraising, including starting up a company of actors who would tour the area performing old radio programs, complete with a sound effects guy. "It was a lot of fun," Paynter said.

"I learned a lot, just being on that board," she said — grant writing, finances, how to connect with other groups on a regional level, and computer skills.

The Iron Range also brought an opportunity to learn ballroom dancing. Inspired by her daughter, who had hired a swing band for her wedding, she and Scott took classes and discovered a whole new passion.

After about seven years in Virginia, the Paynters moved to Red Wing in 2002. She anticipated have a home studio and focusing more on her painting, but once again, Paynter found herself meeting a community need.

She responded after seeing an ad in the Republican Eagle from ArtReach, which was looking for a part-time director. Her experience in a variety of arts capacities did the trick.

"It was a great job," she said. Among other benefits, "it enabled me to connect in Red Wing," because as program director she worked with the YMCA, schools, social services and others.

But after five years there, when she hit age 62 in 2007, she figured it was time to retire.

Paynter had joined several organizations, including the Red Wing Art History Club, the American Association of University Women, and the former Red Wing Arts Association.

"I have found, in all the towns we lived in, that you connect to the community that looks like yourself," she said. "For me, it was always the arts community."

People who move to a town later in life have to connect in their own way, such as through the schools or church. "People who don't do that, it takes them a longer time to really get involved," she said.

Sitting on boards is a good way to connect, she added, but if you can't serve, be a volunteer or become a member. "There are so many opportunities. ..."

"Sometimes people only see the work," she mused. "They don't see the product at the end."

Not surprisingly, Paynter has served or is serving as an officer on a variety of boards, including Art History, AAUW and Red Wing Arts.

She cited AAUW in particular as a group of "powerful, active women" who embraced her and supported her success.

"We came out of the Sixties and Seventies," Paynter noted an era when women burned their bras and marched against war while supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and the Civil Rights movement.

"All that generation really set most of us on a course of involvement."

Looking forward, she said, "I think the kids of today are going to pick up that mantle" in their own unique way.

Paynter's creative nature also shows up in her home life. "I try to produce all our food" (except the meat) in her vegetable and herb garden. For a while she had a little company making potpourri and dried flower wreaths — an activity she considers "on the same trajectory as my love of art."

She cans and freezes what she grows, and recently has been making "kombucha," a fermented tea that she flavors. "Cooking is very creative" for her, too.

Dancing continues to be a part of the Paynters' life. They belong to two dance clubs in the Twin Cities, and regularly participate a hangar dances. That activity has led to acquiring a collection of tuxedos and ball gowns, including 1940s garb.

To accommodate the hobby, Paynter created a closet in the third floor of their early 1900s home where she used to have an art studio. That function was relocated to the lower level, since she still pursues art, too.

Dressing up for dinner dances may also be responsible for her growing collection of vintage jewelry.

For 12 years she has been a volunteer with the Bling & Chocolate jewelry fundraiser at the Goodhue County Historical Society, including taking charge of the jewelry for several years.

Paynter attends auctions regularly and is particularly interested in gems and stones. She doesn't just collect, either. "Because I'm an artist, you just have to make it" as well.

Because she is known both for her creativity and for her volunteerism, Paynter also has responded when asked to serve on Red Wing 2020, on a "visionary committee" for the new interstate bridge, and even on a sales tax committee.

When does she say no?

It's important, Paynter advised, not to get overcommitted, or you won't be able to do a good job. She considers herself "a strategic planner."

Because despite a busy schedule, her two children and five granddaughters know she'll also find time for them.