Albert Lea professional artist retires after decades

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, February 25, 2023

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After a lifetime involved in art, Rory Mattson is retiring as an artist.

Mattson’s father was involved in medical arts at the Mayo Clinic, and Mattson has been around art since he was young.

When he was in fifth grade, his teacher asked him to draw a dog, something Mattson was happy to do.

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“The next time the art teacher came in, she said, ‘“Where did you trace that?’” he said. “And I said I didn’t, I just drew it.”

So the teacher hung it up on the wall, a moment he described as exciting because he didn’t know people appreciated art.

After moving to Albert Lea in 1969, he discovered two other artists in the area, Bill Lauman and Chris Christensen.

“I kind of got to know them, look at their work and I thought that was pretty good,” he said. “I thought, ‘Geez, I can do that.’”

So he started painting.

Mattson’s primary specialty was nature, particularly birds, butterflies, reptiles and insects, along with barns and landscapes.

“People would come by the house and they’d see a piece of art I had sitting on the table and say, ‘Oh, I’ll buy that,’” he said.

Back then, he charged between $10 and $20. But over time and as he improved, he built a display and participated in the Art in the Park show, of which he had a “real good” response.

He also applied to the Heritage show at the Dayton auditorium in the Twin Cities.

“It was one of the top three nature art shows in the Midwest,” Mattson said. “I applied for it almost as a joke, and a week later they called me and said [I’d] been accepted.”

He then drove up there and hung his work. While walking around he saw artists like Dave Maass and Jim Killen, whom Mattson described as his hero.

“The best watercolors I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said.

Killen actually saw Mattson’s work and praised him with the caveat his presentation was bad. So Killen suggested he find the best framer he could, and Mattson called Steve Tubbs to frame pieces.

That first year at the Heritage show he sold three pieces. The second year he sold nine framed works in the first 45 minutes of the show.

Sensing a trend, he kept Tubbs as framer until Mattson retired, roughly 35 years. Mattson called hiring Tubbs the second best decision he made after picking up a brush.

After that show, he started applying for others in the Midwest and participated in shows in Topeka, Madison, St. Louis, Kansas City, La Crosse, Tulsa and Des Moines, among other places.

“It just worked out like everything else in my life,” he said, referring to what he considered a lucky streak.

The idea of retirement came about while he was doing five to seven shows each summer, and then another two to three around the state.

“Over time it was really good to do a load of shows cause I’d get some fair shows and so on,” he said. “But over time I started limiting the shows because it’s a pain in the neck to haul your display and everything.

“I’d spend two to three days on the road, and you’ve got hotels and motels,” he said.

But when the pandemic hit, he saw the circumstances as not too bad for the 80-year-old. And he said his wife was tired of helping him haul and set up his work.

He donated all of his supplies to the Albert Lea Art Center last year, but he still plans to paint as a hobby.

“I can’t tell you how much the city of Albert Lea has supported me,” he said. “… It’s just a great little community, I love it dearly. Everybody who’s bought my art, thank you 100 times.”

Mattson’s primary medium is watercolor, and painting for him was a hobby he did solely for himself.