Celebrating art as a way of life

Published 9:11 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Albert Lea Art Center is kicking off its 50th anniversary year in style.

The Art Center will celebrate “Art As A Way Of Life” from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Northbridge Mall.

The event will open with Albert Lea resident Jeshua Erickson singing his original tribute to Albert Lea, “Close to Home,” at 12:30 p.m.

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Peter Bloedel will perform at 12:45 p.m. He blends physical coordination, mystery, comedy, psychology and magic trickery.

At 1:30 p.m., the area artists who are being featured on the Albert Lea Art Center’s 2009 commemorative calendar will be introduced. They will also be displaying their original works.

“As far as I know, this is the first Art Center calendar,” said Art Center board member Carol Wolter.

The calendars, of which there are only 500, will be available that day for a $20 donation. They feature a picture of the art of the month, as well as a biography of the artist as it pertains to the particular art in the calendar.

“Each is titled and has a quote by the artist,” Wolter said.

There are patrons who have paid for the printing of the calendar, so all proceeds will go toward Art Center programming.

The new, colorful Art Center logo and mission statement will be revealed as well.

From 2 to 4 p.m., there will be Dixieland jazz. Debbie Schreyer’s Banjo Belle Jazz Band will provide All-American music for all ages. The group performs regularly on the Jonathan Padelford Mississippi River Boat.

Banjoist and leader Debbie Schreyer has been an entertainer for more than 20 years, performing nationwide. She’s performed on the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen steamboats, the New Orleans World’s Fair, and at numerous jazz festivals.

While playing banjo on a riverboat on the Upper Mississippi, Schreyer met Capt. Tom Owens, who eventually became her husband. He had previous experience in musical theater in St. Paul and joined the act singing and playing string bass.

He accompanied her on their seven-year run at the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. While living on the beach, they recorded their compact disk, “Debbie Schreyer Trio: Banjo on the Boardwalk.”

From their home base in Minnesota, Schreyer and Owens are featured at banjo shows nationwide and also perform locally. They live close enough to Schreyer’s brother, Ben, so the can continue their family tradition of playing music together as the Schreyer Banjo Jazz Band and with the Blue Ox Jazz Babies.

On the trumpet that day will be Ralph Faville, an Albert Lea native who now lives in St. Paul. Fred Richardson of Minneapolis will play clarinet, and Jack Hockenberry of Albert Lea will play tailgate trombone.

Also that day, area individuals and organizations will be showcasing their art. Among the organizations taking part are the Lens & Shutter Photography Club, the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center, the Albert Lea Civic Music Association, the Joyce Matthies Dance Centre, the Washington Avenue Writers Group, the Silent Symphony and more.

Nancy VanderWaerdt will serve as master of ceremonies for the event. The artists will be introduced by Susie Petersen, Glen Parsons, Randy Kehr and Victoria Simonsen.

Parks and Recreation coordinator Jennifer Davis will have fun, creative activities for the children.

– The perfect ingredients for formation of an arts organization came together in a painting class given by local artist Lloyd Herfindahl early in 1959. His students wanted the opportunity to learn, to display their works, and to share their enthusiasm with others.

– With the strong encouragement of Herfindahl, who became their art director, they formed the Albert Lea Art Center on March 4, 1959, choosing a board of directors, electing officers, beginning the process of incorporation, and framing by-laws.

– The first meetings were held at the Federal Savings and Loan (now Home Federal Savings Bank), and exhibits took place in the Skinner Chamberlain Department Store (in 2009 the Brick Furniture Store), the Spanish Dining Room of the Hotel Albert (the present site of U.S. Bank), and Central Park. One of the earliest exhibits was held in a local church meeting room. – – — Legend has it that an abstract painting of a nude became a point of controversy and was removed from the display.

– While developing a venue of classes, exhibits, Art in the Park, the winter art show and other activities, the organization began searching for a permanent home. Temporary headquarters were found on Grove Avenue in a house slated to be removed when the new hospital was built. Then an unused laundry building became available and the group worked long and hard, painting, cleaning, and fixing it up. When the owner changed his mind, the arts group was again homeless.

– In 1975, the Albert Lea Art Center purchased the oldest church building in Albert Lea, located at 501 W. Main St. Finally, they had a home for temporary exhibits, meetings, classes, programs, receptions, and for display of the growing permanent collection.

– In 1984, two 25-year anniversary events were held at the Albert Lea Inn, one recognizing internationally known artist Lloyd Herfindahl, founder, and the other an all member show recognizing the contributions of area arts enthusiasts in both the visual arts and music.

– In 1986, with a federal revenue sharing grant provided by the city of Albert Lea and the generosity of the community during a major fund drive, the Art Center was able to purchase the Rivoli Mini Mall at 224 S. Broadway Ave. The first year, the Art Center was housed in the largest gallery, and over the years gradually expanded to other areas as the spaces became available. The center now contains the Herfindahl, Storrer and Cruikshank galleries and Art on Broadway, the original art and art supply store. Of special interest, the Art Center board was thrilled to own the historic Rivoli Theatre and conservatory built by Dr. William Bessessen for his wife, Beatrice Gjertson Bessessen, an acclaimed opera singer.

– In 2005, the building was purchased by artist Susanne Crane with the hope of restoring the upper two floors, anticipating their use as studio and apartment. The first floor continues to provide a center for the cultural arts in this community and a home for the Albert Lea Art Center.

— Courtesy of Bev Jackson Cotter, former executive director and current board member

Wolter said the reason the event is being held in the mall is to get art out into the community.

And the purpose of the day is to emphasize that art is for everyone, said board member and former executive director, Bev Jackson Cotter.

“Art defines the community you live in,” she said.