A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Fish & Fowl are afoot at Knot gallery

Following the great success of its bird exhibit two years ago, The Knot gallery opened its "Fish and Fowl" exhibit to a crowd of local art fans Friday evening. Work by eight local artists and photographers are on display, some for sale. The artworks are unique, as are the people who created them.

Exhibiting for the first time at the Knot gallery is award-winning fish artist Stuart Nelson, whose remarkably detailed paintings of fish bring them to life.

"I've always done a lot of art and living on a lake; I fished a lot, so it was kind of natural," said Nelson, who has spent his life living on Big Lake. "I can almost do these fish with my eyes closed."

Nelson has won the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stamp competition five times, twice for trout and three times for walleye. It takes more than a good fish painting to win the DNR competition. Entries are judged by a zoologist who studies fish, DNR wardens and others, as well as an engraver who sees if the 6.5 x 9-inch painting will reduce to a stamp measuring 1.25 x 2 inches. Nelson said he spends 30 to 40 hours on the contest paintings.

"I got the cheaters on and I'm right there with a five-hair brush to do scales. It really is tiny," he said. "I like to paint for an hour, go get a cup of coffee or take a walk. You always want to be fresh, or you start taking shortcuts.

"You have to maximize that little area. It's more fish than anything."

Although he's shut down his website, Nelson still paints (and fishes). Each year he donates an original to the Teen Challenge fishing challenge raffle - he and Rich Brummer are top fundraisers for the nonprofit raffle and selling tickets now - and expects to enter more stamp contests.


Pine Knot News readers are familiar with nature photographer Will Stenberg - his wildlife photos are frequent flyers in the newspaper - who contributed eight regional bird photographs to this show, ranging from a loon in flight to swans, owls, herons and more. The Cromwell native often drives long distances to locales and parks in the region.

"I love to be out in nature and feel better in mood and spirit there than in any other setting," said Stenberg. "Certainly, every time I go out, I would like to find something interesting to photograph, but I would still want to be in nature without a camera."

Stenberg said he's an opportunist.

"I rarely go out for a certain subject, but will try to capture what I do happen to see in the field on any particular day," he said. "I especially appreciate the birds, mammals and insects of our region, but will turn my attention to plants or landscapes should the opportunity arise."


Well-known local artist Adam Swanson works from his studio on Ditchbank Road west of Cloquet. His paintings often depict unique environments in our state and region. This time he focused on the endangered southern Minnesota catfish, the Slender Madtom.

"I began this painting thinking about what the Slender Madtom must see, swimming around small pebbles in slow moving streams," he said. "In place of my childhood self, I painted a portrait of my son, taken years ago walking along the beach of a small stream. I wanted this painting to express a light, dreamy feel. I used dark colors, and experimented with the light bounce of a child to the floating sensation of a small, bottom feeding catfish."

"These fish are endangered," he told us, "due to pesticide runoff and disrupted waterways," he said. The DNR encourages citizens to report on these streams.


Cloquet artist Ken Hanson helped hang the exhibit and contributed a painting which came out of a fishing trip with longtime friend and pickleball partner Gary Skebecki, and Hanson's wife, Chris.

"What I've been thinking about lately is the idea of narrative: how representational imagery has the potential to suggest different things to different people," Hanson said. "In the case of 'Canadian Fishing Trip,' while the storyline would appear fairly straightforward - two old guys feeling pretty good about their successful trip to Canada - a viewer who has had a similar experience might envision personal specifics: location, fish caught, bait used, etc."


Esko artist Deborah Manisto was first exposed to watercolors through a wonderful art teacher at Carlton High School, but didn't pursue it seriously until she retired and started taking classes to learn more about the techniques of watercolor. She has two original watercolors in the exhibit: "Bluebirds" and "P.S. Chicken."

"'Bluebirds' was an exercise in doing a painting using only one color," she said. (Yes, the color is blue.) "The 'P.S.' in 'P.S. Chicken' stands for primary (yellow, red, blue) and secondary (orange, green, purple) colors. The chicken took shape from an exercise in drawing an object without looking at the paper."

Birds are a frequent subject for Manisto.

"There is an infinite variety of shapes and colors to choose from," she said.


Art show regular Mark Cline is back from snowbirding, with some more exotic bird shots reflective of his winter travels through the Sonoran Desert.

"I was actually really surprised there is as much wildlife in the desert as there is," he said "I also love the interplay of birds similar to what we see here, but in a very different environment. And raptors always fascinate me."

Cline enjoyed watching a hummingbird family grow up in the backyard this winter and included a photo of the babies with his submissions of larger birds. The Scanlon resident also returns his large-format composite of an eagle fishing on the Mississippi.


Cloquet resident Jody Dixon had paintings already done when the "Fish & Fowl" exhibit was announced.

"I am a big bird enthusiast. I watch them, I feed them, I draw them," she said. "I have a bird book on the table and keep a checklist of all the birds that come through. I'm a bird nerd."

Dixon learned to paint with oils rom a distant Finnish relative, but quickly switched to acrylics because she was impatient, and oils take too long to dry. She paints a variety of subjects including landscapes, flowers, people, hats, and birds, when inspiration strikes.

She often paints her subjects in threes or fives, including both in a painting of blackcap chickadees in the current exhibit.

"I use threes for my three daughters, or five for our family unit, with my husband," Dixon said. "So I have the five blackcap chickadees in three birch trees. It's my favorite."

Dixon started drawing as a young child, and always knew she wanted to be an artist. Now she paints every day.

"I paint on the canvas and I have two murals in my house that I have painted over multiple times," she said. "I even paint a lot of birds on Christmas ornaments."


Photographer John Dahlman, a classmate of Will Stenberg's, said he could also be described as a bird nerd. He lives on a farm east of Floodwood, near the St. Louis River. He gets myriad images without leaving the property, and many without leaving his living room chair.

"The river attracts a lot of wildlife. I got a coyote last week, a bobcat the week before, lots of ducks," he said. "I do a lot more 'recliner shots' in the winter because I'm in the house more."

Dahlman has about 1,200 Facebook followers who enjoy his nature photography.

"I think the majority of those are photographers," he said. "You learn a lot from other photographers."

Missed the reception? The show will run into mid-July and the Pine Knot News is participating in the Roundabout Art Tour May 4.