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New EARTH exhibit opens at Abode Gallery

Ben Johnson's vibrant glass vases will be included in Abode Gallery's "EARTH" exhibit, which opens on Sept. 30 with a free opening reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Abode Gallery is located on Spring Street in the tiny village of Stockholm. (Photo courtesy of Abode Gallery)

STOCKHOLM -- The earth is made up of minerals, rocks, soil and water. So is “EARTH,” Abode Gallery’s new group art exhibit, which opens on Friday, Sept. 30 and runs through Nov. 7 in Stockholm.

The EARTH exhibit will feature the work of regional artists who work in clay, metal, stone, glass, and soil. They are handmade tile artist Margy Jean Balwierz; Pepin Farm Pottery’s Peter Deneen, Mary Deneen, and Martha Winter; Winona jewelers Maryann and Rick Frietsche; Twin Cities glass artist Ben Johnson; Pepin landscape designer Lynn Peterson; and Alma ceramicist Tina Schowalter.

An opening wine and cheese reception from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 is free and open to the public. The reception takes place during an arts open house in Stockholm and Maiden Rock, called the “Meander + Stroll,” featuring artist demonstrations, wine and food tastings, music, and merchandise specials.

“Earth’s materials can take many forms, but in our EARTH exhibit, the materials have been finely honed into works of glass, ceramics, jewelry, and even living sculptures,” said Abode Gallery curator and owner Alan Nugent. “The artists have created fine art out of the most elemental substances.”

Several of the artists represented in the EARTH show have long histories in the region. Peter Deneen began his lifelong journey with ceramics while studying pottery at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In 1972, he and his wife Mary founded what is now a second-generation family pottery business in St. Paul and Pepin. Their distinctive, internationally-acclaimed pottery will be familiar to visitors to the gallery.

Ceramicist Tina Schowalter, whose studio is in Alma, studied fine arts and sculpture at UW-Milwaukee and has been working in clay for 25 years.

“I love the way that clay remembers every touch,” says Schowalter. “When I work with clay it feels as though I’m having a conversation with a friend. Everything just flows.” Her deceptively simple white ceramic wall hangings represent years of “journaling” in clay.

“My current work is a little push back on our technological age,” she adds. “Making one-of-a-kind things is a rebellion against mass produced, machine-made things. I enjoy seeing imperfections that mark a piece as being made by an individual human.”

Color and light shine through Ben Johnson’s glass vases, Margy Jean Balwierz’s handmade tiles, and Maryann Frietsche’s gemstones, reminding viewers that the earth’s materials can seem more ethereal than earthy. On the other end of the materials spectrum, one of the most elemental pieces in the exhibit is by Pepin landscape designer Lynn Peterson, who created a work consisting of soil and perennial plants specifically for the EARTH exhibit.

“Working with earthly elements requires immense skill, deep dedication to the art forms, and an understanding of the complexities of raw materials,” says Nugent. “And the particular artists in this show have a deep commitment to the beauty of those materials.”

The exhibit is the last in the 2016 series of shows at Abode Gallery, which have ranged from lushly decorative to highly conceptual. The exhibit currently on display is “WORD,” featuring works that incorporate the written word in painting, drawing, interactive computer design, and even rug-hooking. The “Word” exhibit will be on display through Sept. 26.