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Area Voices: Park Rapids artist pushes others to pursue their passions

Photo of artists Bickey Bender wearing glasses and pink earings.
Bickey Bender
Park Rapids artist Bickey Bender in 2023.

Bickey Bender of Park Rapids discusses working in a variety of mediums and encouraging others to find their artistic voice.

A watercolor painting of a sunset with a river and trees in front of it.
Bickey Bender
Bickey Bender's piece "Sunset on Lake Washington."

PARK RAPIDS — Growing up in rural North Dakota, there weren’t many art options for a young creative. Bickey Bender credits growing up in that environment and having to make her own art as the beginning of her artistic journey.

Bender’s mom was a very creative person and encouraged Bender to try new things. She started out with pencils and crayons, and then when she was a senior in high school, she tried out water coloring and has stuck with it ever since.

Nature plays a big role in Bender’s artwork. She credits that to her appreciating her surroundings. She would take pictures of beautiful shots of nature and recreate them in watercolors.

In addition to watercolor, Bender also likes to work in a variety of different mediums, including acrylics, photography, painting buildings, and working with her own homemade paper.

A water color painting of a big fat toad
Bickey Bender
Bickey Bender's piece "Big Fat Toad."

Teacher and artist

Bender taught elementary and high school art classes where she would showcase all sorts of different art mediums to her students.

“It just makes it much more interesting,” said Bender. “You might just find some child becomes inspired by working with clay, or maybe be inspired by doing print making. I remember one young boy said, ‘I never thought I could do this,’ and it just makes your heart jump when you know that you've achieved something with that child.”

Making paper

Bender got into making her own paper because she likes working with textures. She uses sheets of cotton linter, tears them up into small parts, and blends it in the dryer with all sorts of different items. She’ll use lint from dryers, seeds, cattails, flower petals, and even hornets' nests.

“Whatever I can find to create an interesting background,” said Bender. “I'm inspired by what I see and how I think it would be best interpreted.”

Finding time to work

It’s not always the easiest to set aside time daily to work on art. “I wish I could say that I create every day. Probably in thoughts I create, but I don't always get it down on paper or whatever medium.” She finds she works better when there is a deadline because she knows she must finish the project.

After working on her art in a basement for many years, which she doesn’t find very conducive to creativity, she’s happy to now have a proper studio. “When we moved here, my husband said, ‘If I build a double garage and you can have the top floor, will you move from Fargo to Park Rapids?’ and I said, ‘I surely will.’”

Bender wants to encourage others to pursue creating art. Even if someone thinks they can’t do it, they should at least try. “But you have to learn how to see first and when you learn how to see, you can put those things down. Whatever medium you choose, I would encourage you if you have a dream of creating, follow that dream.”

Bender’s artwork is on display at Studio 176 and she is featured on the Blank Canvas Gallery’s website. She also has her work hanging in her garage. “I certainly would be glad to work with anybody who is interested.”

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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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