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Area Voices: Lake Itasca provides inspiration for Bemidji artist

Artists Gillian Bedford is painting trees and river with a forest in the background.
Gillian Bedford
Bemidji artist Gillian Bedford painting a new work of art.

Gillian Bedford discussed her upcoming exhibit at Watermark Art Center and where she finds inspiration. There will be an opening reception 5-7 p.m. Dec. 1, 2023.

BEMIDJI — “I'm hoping people come will come away from the show feeling like they've seen something joyful, something beautiful, something inspiring to look at,” Gillian Bedford said about her new exhibit “Lake Itasca: True Source of My Inspiration.”

Art has been part of Bedford’s family at least since the 1800s. Her great-great-great uncle Daniel Burnham was one of the designers of the city of Chicago in 1890.

Gillian Bedford creating a painting on a dock with water in the background.
Gillian Bedford
Bemidji artist Gillian Bedford creating plein air painting.

“I would draw with my sisters and my mother, and I would go outside and make mud pots with mud that I would gather, and make clothing with my mother,” she said. “I was always very creative, everything we did.”

She was drawn to plein air painting when she and her husband were on sabbatical and driving across the country. Plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors. She decided to bring acrylic paint with her instead of oils, the artform she had been working with for 30 years, because acrylics dried quicker. She would then paint the different scenes they saw on their trip.

Bedford tries to keep a schedule for painting.

Acrylic painting of Lake Itasca with trees in the background
Gillian Bedford
Previous Gillian Bedford painting "Lake Itasca Bathing Area."

“I try to set aside three to four times a week that I paint. I don't paint on weekends. I don't paint in the evening.” For her, weekends are for family and reconstituting herself, and evenings are for reading and settling down.

Lake Itasca not only plays an important role in the exhibit, but also in Bedford's life. This past summer and early fall, she’s been going to Lake Itasca with her daughter Amara once a week to paint.

It was also one of the first places she visited when she arrived in the Bemidji area with her husband.

“We went there many, many times and went on hikes, so I have done many paintings in the last five years of Lake Itasca.”

An interesting aspect of this exhibit is Bedford limited her palette to five or six colors on the paintings. “I find that my paintings change with the day, the weather, my emotions, and I wanted to keep some things consistent.”

She was also inspired by the artist John Laub from Pennsylvania and used the same colors he used. She was amazed at how many different varieties you can come up with using limited colors.

Bedford said the Watermark Arts Center was one the first places she fell in love with when she moved to the Bemidji area. When asked how she feels to have her work on display, she stated, “It's an honor to be exhibited there.”

David Hockney was another artist who inspired Bedford. Hockney played a big role in the pop art movement in the 1960s and is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

“His artwork has consistently a feeling of joy in them,” she said.

She’s hoping people feel the same way about her artwork.

The exhibit “Lake Itasca: True Source of My Inspiration” opens Dec. 1 and goes until Feb. 24. There will be an opening reception 5-7 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Watermark Art Center, with an artist talk at 6 p.m.

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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