Art is: Art in quality and tradition is a way of life

Published 3:45 pm Friday, April 14, 2017

By Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of The Albert Lea Art Center, 226 W. Clark St. in Albert Lea.

According to my little Webster’s pocket dictionary, art is defined as “skill” and “creativity.”

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It doesn’t mention a 16-inch by 20-inch canvas or a frame that enhances the subject matter. All it says is “skill” and “creativity.”

Bev Jackson Cotter

It leads me to the most significant impression that remains following a recent trip to Europe. As we traveled from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, art was around us — everywhere. It was in the designs of the cobblestone streets, in the red sandstone sculptures of the cathedrals — both exterior and interior, even the artistic placement of raspberries and drizzled chocolate over a delicious pudding. Art in quality and tradition is a way of life.

Following my first visit to Germany years ago, I came home with the impression that Europe is quality and America is quantity — maybe not all of the time, but often.

Imagine the citizens of Albert Lea deciding to build a new city hall with construction starting in June 2017. If the city hall were to take 600 years to build, as is the case in many European buildings, how many generations in the same family of carpenters would work on the building?

Can’t you just hear the people on party line calling and discussing, arguing, complaining and hopefully complementing the progress of the construction?

Granted, 600 years ago, there was no one in what is now Albert Lea who was interested in designing and constructing a building that was timeless. But, almost a hundred years ago, there was. Our downtown and other area buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

What if we cared enough to spend whatever it takes in money and time to see that these buildings are preserved? What if we cared enough to see that future generations — far into the future — are able to enjoy the beauty we see every day and take for granted? Would people then say, “I’m so glad that someone cared enough to preserve our original beauty?”

Millions of visitors each year tour these incredible European buildings — city halls, city walls, commercial buildings, private homes, government sites, churches small and large, castles restored and in ruins. Each of these buildings is a piece of art.

It may be the sculptural style, or the brick and stone work or the stained glass window design that captures your attention.

I love the feeling I had when I sat in a coffee house and bakery that has been in the same family for 140 years and has been a bakery for 400 years. I loved the stone floor that required stuffing a little extra piece of wood under the table leg, so the table wouldn’t slant like the floor did.

I love the wonderful security and comfort that comes from knowing whatever may come, be it storm, decay or war that someone cares enough to rebuild in the original style, to appreciate what has come before, to preserve the design, the art and the history of the architectural past.

As we wandered through the village of Ostheim, we spotted the end wall of a brick building with a stork standing on its nest over the chimney. The rest of the building was gone, destroyed by World War II bombing. The end wall stands as a monument to the past and to the tradition of telling children that if they placed a sugar cube on the windowsill, the stork would bring a new baby to the family.

We have so much to learn about appreciating the art, the traditions, the quality, the “skill” and “creativity” of the past.