Local Artists Fill First ’22-23 Visual Arts Exhibition at CSB and SJU – CSB+SJU

The first of eight exhibitions for the 2022-23 academic year at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University has opened, and it may be one of the most thought-provoking experiences on both campuses in years.

Indigenous Survival, which highlights the work of several leading indigenous Minnesota artists, is on display through October 29 at the Saint John’s Art Center. Travis Zimmerman ’94, an SJU alumnus who is site manager at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post for the Minnesota Historical Society, curated the show. He has selected five artists and asked them to provide works that describe themes of survival and resistance for the exhibition.

Artists include Pat Kruse, Annette S. Lee, Steve Premo, Jonathan Thunder, and Laura Youngbird. Cruz is a birchbark and quill artist who harvests raw materials from birch trees and porcupine quills for use in his exhibitions, is a member of the Red Cliffe Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin, and is a descendant of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Lee, an astronomy professor and longtime St. Cloud resident, uses painting, digital storytelling and moving media to explore local knowledge of the stars and the earth. Premo, a member of the Mille Lacs Band, is an artist and graphic designer. Thunder, a painter and digital artist, is a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe. And Youngbird, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage Band, is a mixed media artist who combines drawing and painting.

“It’s especially timely with the relationship that St. John’s and St. Ben’s have with the local boarding schools, and some of these artists have their own connection with them,” said Becky Pfluger, who manages the galleries at CSB and SJU. “I don’t think anyone will want to miss the chance to see these works by significant artists from across the state.”

Zimmerman is a member of the Native Nations Task Force, which brings together representatives from St. Benedict’s Monastery, St. John’s Abbey, as well as faculty, staff and students from CSB, SJU and St. John’s Preparatory School. The task force is involved in responding to and reading a story where Native Americans were sent to industrial schools and pressured to abandon their own culture and embrace Christianity. The Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict were involved in four such schools, among hundreds in the U.S. and Canada, although that connection has been broken for more than 50 years. In 2021, St. Benedict’s Monastery issued a formal apology for its role in this story, and for more than a year now, classes and presentations at CSB and SJU have been preceded by a land confirmation citing the boarding school’s history.

Annette S. Lee, former professor of astronomy at St. Cloud State University, created this painting, titled “Prayer and Creation,” in 2020. It is one of the works that will fill the St. John Art Center for the exhibition “Survival of the Indigenous population’ through Oct. 29 This academic year will feature eight different exhibitions, four at St. John’s University and four in the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery in the Benedicta Center for the Arts at the College of St. Benedict.

The effects of this story will manifest in some of the art presented. For example, one painting depicts a monk using a spear to stab a crucified Native American with Jesus running in the background. According to Zimmerman, indigenous art in any form is an act of survival, telling a story of resilience and adaptability. He said the show will illustrate not only how Native people “are still here, but that they will always be present and reflected in the fabric of American life.”

An artist reception will be held on September 8, and the Indigenous Survival exhibit is made possible by grants from CSB and the SJU Indigenous Student Association, the Native Nations Liaison Initiative and the Central Minnesota Arts Council.

The first exhibition of the season in the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery at the Benedicta Center for the Arts opens on September 5. It will feature the work of fiber artists Aspen Mahon and Jennifer Plass. The show is titled New Traditions: Transitions in Fiber Art. There will be a reception for the artists on September 15th, and their works will be on display until October 15th.

Mahon is a nurse at St. Cloud Hospital. Plass holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from St. Cloud State. Together they blur the line between art and craft, questioning the utility of their works. Is art made to be used or just to be observed? They would offer both.

“This will be their first show,” Pfluger said. “Some of their creations are wearable. You may see dyed yarn used in a blanket where the different colors represent different moods they may have experienced at the time. Their pieces turn their feelings into visual events.”

The rest of the visual arts program includes: a show by photographer Xavier Tavera, Oct. 24-Dec. 3 in CSB; fiber art featuring anecdotal architecture by Liz Miller, Nov. 8-Dec. 16 at SJU; mixed media exhibition by art faculty members Scott Murphy and Elaine Rutherford, Dec. 12-Feb. 25 in CSB; a show by Minneapolis-based artist Eric Benson, Jan. 17-March 17 at SJU; a juried exhibit of ceramic art by The Color Network titled Muliebris: Femme Feminine Femininity, March 13-May 8 at CSB; and a celebration of senior art theses, April 1-May 6 at SJU.

The CSB Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The SJU Gallery is open from 2-6pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and from 2-8pm on Thursdays.

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