Recycling junque

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Visitors to the Albert Lea Art Center may be seeing green over the next two months.

The Art Center is hosting three artists — Bonnie Wedge, Heidi Thompson and Sara Aeikens — whose focuses are earth-friendly or sustainable, starting Thursday and running through Aug. 26.

Wedge, who teaches art at Lakeview Elementary School, said she started using recycled materials when she was teaching in another school district and needed inexpensive, available supplies.

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“I got pretty good at scrounging,” she said.

She carried that over into her own works, and has been working with recycled materials for about 10 years.

“Everything I did was metal for a while. I was really enamored with metal,” she said. “But now I’ve switched to paper.”

She learned how to make paper in a class, and has been using it since.

When in her metal phase, she did a lot with aluminum cans. “Anything you can do with paper you can do with aluminum cans,” she said, adding she’s made Mexican tin ornaments, a Day of the Dead quilt and many dolls.

“I found that permanent marker colors aluminum nicely,” Wedge said.

In addition to aluminum cans, she uses bottle caps, spoons, fishing lures, tins and Jell-O molds, just to name a few items. “Lately I’ve been trying to find tins with faces on them and use the faces,” she said.

The result is often whimsical.

“I want something that makes me smile,” Wedge said.

Now in her paper phase, she created a book using old patterns and women in her life who sewed. She’s also done miniature wall quilts from paper.

Wedge has been published a number of times in the Art Doll Quarterly.

She’s created dolls for the publication’s contests, including painted cloth Kachina spirit dolls, gourd dolls and more.

“My goal is to be on the cover of that magazine,” Wedge said.

One of her new paper creations is in the Summer 2009 edition of the magazine. She’s made a textured paper doll using red rosin paper for the dress and paper towels for the sleeves.

“I love texture and color and I try to incorporate that into my artwork,” the artist said.

One of her dolls, which she created for a Red Bull Energy Drink art contest, is now part of the permanent collection in the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

“I kind of like contests,” she said. “I like the challenge to see what happens.”

Wedge has previously exhibited in the all-member show at the Art Center, but has never had a gallery to herself before this. Her works are on exhibit in the Herfindahl Gallery.

She said she feels it’s important for her students to see that art teachers aren’t just teaching artists, they’re working artists, too.

Wedge and her husband, Brad, have two daughters and a granddaughter.

In the Storrer Gallery is Heidi Thompson of Wells. She calls her exhibit “Art in a Sustainable World.”

Thompson is a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She will have on exhibit pastoral scenes, animal paintings, landscapes and some freestyle pieces using color and texture. She has also done a number of decorative pieces.

Thompson will also have her recently published book, “It’s a Dream Life … With a Few Nightmares Thrown in for Fun.” It’s a book of recipes and stories about country life.

Thompson did not grow up on a farm, but always wanted to live on one. Her husband, Chuck, grew up on a hobby farm. One night, while watching a documentary about how animals are raised, they decided to grow all their own food.

They started with a “practice” farm near Zimmerman. They continued working full time at their careers (she in painting and he as an electrician), but realized that if they wanted to be full-time organic farmers, 10 acres was not enough land on which to make a living.

Thompson said they searched Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin for a farm with more than 40 acres that included a farm built before 1940. They came across three with potential, and bought the third one, near Wells. Thompson’s Painted Hill Farm was born in November 2007.

What: The Bonnie Wedge, Heidi Thompson and Sara Aeikens art exhibits

Where: Albert Lea Art Center, 224 S. Broadway Ave.

When: Thursday to Aug. 26. Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Other: There is no charge to attend, but the Art Center accepts donations to help defray expenses.

The farm’s philosophy is this: “It is our goal to know where our food comes from and how it is grown. We will grow as much of our food as possible. What we can’t grow, we buy locally and organically grown. We purchase only those foods with the fewest ingredients. We believe that simple is best. We avoid fast food like the plague. Just because food is easy and inexpensive doesn’t make it good. We will continue to learn the best, most nutritious and most humane way to raise our food and to share that knowledge and the goods produced with others.”

The Thompsons raise Dexter cattle, a smaller Irish heritage breed. They are grass-fed. They also raise mulefoot hogs. The breed is black with a solid foot, like a mule, and its meat is dark and marbled.

They also raise chickens, ducks and turkeys.

The Thompsons sell their meats at co-ops in Blue Earth, St. Peter and Northfield. They also sell regularly at farmers markets. They’re in Austin on Monday, Albert Lea on Wednesday and Mankato on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

They’re also building a concession trailer and will try it out at the Faribault County Fair this summer. “We’re going to call it the Painted Hill Smokin’ Grill,” she said. “It’s my attempt to connect eaters with the farm.”

The Thompsons will have samples of their food at the opening of the art show, from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. She plans to serve meatballs made from organic beef and pasture-raised pork. There will be others from an association to which they belong, My Organic Neighborhood. The association serves as the middleman between the farm and the consumer, she said.

Her book will also be for sale at the Art Center, or people can go to

“There’s nothing more important in a person’s life than quality, safe food. That’s what we’re trying to promote,” she said.

Sara Aeikens will display her “Junque Jewels” in the Cruikshank Gallery.

Aeikens found most of her “jewels” while walking around Fountain Lake.

“What a lot of stuff we throw to the ground,” she said. She chose what she would keep, picked it up, cleaned it up and put it on display. She also has some photos of recycled items on display.

When the show is finished in late August, Aeikens plans to photograph the items and dispose of them properly, she said.