Art is: Meet your neighbors through art

Published 9:00 am Saturday, October 20, 2018

Art is by Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, where the exhibition “Creating Community,” co-sponsored with Albert Lea Select Foods, will continue through Nov. 13.

The Albert Lea Art Center is proud to join with Albert Lea Select Foods to host its first exhibition at the new location at 101 S. Broadway. “Creating Community” is an interesting and unusual combination of drawings, paintings, clothing, wood carving, musical instruments — a mandolin and horns, basket weaving, flowers and a flag representing the Karen people.

Bev Jackson Cotter

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Creating community through art — what an interesting way to get to know and to learn about your neighbors. The new exhibition gives us taste of what life was like in the Central American and East Asian countries that some of our newest immigrants once called home.

As I perused the exhibition, I couldn’t help but wonder how an individual could adapt to the way of life that most of us take for granted, the lifestyle that we consider to be American.

Differences abound: language, clothing styles, food, architecture, schools, religious and political affiliations, security, financial arrangements, housing arrangements, medical care — the list goes on and on, yet art is a common denominator.

My interest in history kicks in here. Years ago, in the era of country schools, a friend told us of recess time when the Czech kids, Norwegian kids and kids whose families came from the earlier-settled eastern states all played in different sections of the school yard, because those other kids were ‘different.’

A Freeborn County map at the historical museum shows the Irish settling in the Oakland area, the Dutch near Hollandale, the Germans near Conger, the Danes in Clarks Grove and Alden, the Czechs near Myrtle, with the Norwegians scattered in between the others. The settlers of each country of origin — all European — wanting to keep to their own people, sharing traditions that were familiar to them. How many years did it take for all of them to blend? Many. And, if truth be known, many of these people, more than 150 years later, are still proud of their ancestry and their ‘labeled’ communities. It’s interesting to note that the people from Mexico, many of whom came for seasonal work on the farms near Hollandale, chose to stay in Minnesota. But I digress.

Sandy Clover, nurse at Albert Lea Select Foods has been instrumental in coordinating this special display of employee art. Herself an artist, she first encouraged employees to submit paintings and drawings for a special exhibit there, and was happy to expand it to the Albert Lea Art Center show.

One unique display tells us that different clothing colors depict life progression among the Karen people, white shirts for young, single women, black woven for married, red shirts for men and matching shirts for married couples.

Traditions, memories and heritage are represented by artifacts and paintings from the Karen community, Cuba, Ethiopia, Thailand, Mexico, and black/white and Finnish/Swedish Minnesotans.

We want to thank the administration and employees at Albert Lea Select Foods for bringing this show to the Albert Lea Art Center visitors. How wonderful that we can get to know our new neighbors through their art, our universal language.