Barbara Benda Nagle, Moorhead, Minnesota, took the Best of Show award this year in the Rural Art Show at the Red Door Art Gallery. A reception was held Thursday, Aug. 15 where guests could visit with participating artists and the winners were announced.
Benda Nagle’s watercolor piece, “J & S Farmer’s Mill,” was picked for the top award, and she noted it was the first time she’d ever had a work be chosen as Best of Show.
The former public school educator and Wahpeton native now teaches art workshops around the region, from Medora, North Dakota, into northern Wisconsin.
“This piece is in Barnesville,” she said, as she explained how she came about choosing the image.
“My husband has a classic car, ’64 Galaxy 500, and we were on our way to a car show in Fergus. A group of guys wanted to caravan the cars through Barnesville. I saw the scene of the mill, and a white truck was coming out,” she explained. “The light was hitting it perfectly, the light was hitting the roof of the mill or elevator, perfectly and I said, stop! I have to get a photo of this. He said, we can’t stop we’re in a caravan!”
She made a note to go back later to view the scene again.
“I returned another day, same time of day, and took my plein air easel, and parked across the street from the elevator at 7 o’clock in the morning and started painting studies,” Benda Nagle said.
She first does the studies in black and white to show the values and create a mood. Elevators are difficult to sketch as they have different perspectives on rooflines, she said, but she wanted to capture her excitement when she saw the light hitting the roof.
“Before long a man came outside with a camera and wanted to do a story on me,” she said. “I didn’t realize I’d set up my easel right outside the Barnesville newspaper.”
She said it’s hard to plein air paint and visit at the same time. She later took her studies home and tried it in various color schemes, finally landing on a version with a pale yellow sky.
“I’m not into it for the realism, I’m in it for the feel of it,” she said. “It was about trying to capture the warmth of the scene that first morning I saw it.”
In the fine art category, Fargo-based Ellen Jean Diederich’s “Land of Milk and Honey” painting took first place, and Fargo-based Elizabeth Schwankl’s “Blackbird in Cattails,” using an interesting alumninart technique, earned second place.
Diederich was unable to attend the reception but provided comments that gallery director Noah Dobmeier shared.
Last September, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., she analyzed a painting that stopped her in her tracks each time she saw it,s he wrote. It had cows and a milkmaid right in the foreground on the bottom edge of the painting, and distant haystacks.
“Based on all of my compositional wisdom, it shouldn’t work, but it did, beautifully,” Diederich wrote. “A rule-breaker for sure. Because of my admiration, I tried to use that composition in my painting.”
She also explained the challenges she faced as well as the aerial perspective.
“The key to making this work was placing the trees to shadow the barn and adding the cows in the center field to lead the eye upward. I am so happy it was worth the effort.”
In the photography category, Wahpeton-based photographer Nick Roehl’s “22 Degree Halo with Circumzenithal Arc,” earned a first place award and Fargo-based photographer Scott Seiler’s “Dinosaurs on the Prairie,” took second place.
Seiler, a landscape photographer, said he likes to drive the countryside after work to de-stress.
“I don’t take the interstates, I take the back roads and travel. I heard about these ‘Dinosaurs on the Prairie’ near Napoleon, on Highway 34,” he said. “It was fun to see these antique threshing machines that farmer John Grenz captured and collected throughout the years. It does look like dinosaurs trekking across the field.”
He explained how you can walk along a trail and see them up close.
Merit awards went to Nancy Little for her watercolor, “Moose,” and to Laura Von Bank for her painting, “Bubble Sheep.”
Laura Youngbird, Native American Arts program director at Plains Art Museum, Fargo, was this year’s jurist.
The Rural Art Show is sponsored by Brushvale Grain and will be up through Sept. 28. Gallery visitors have the opportunity to cast their vote for their favorite work in the show and the Viewer’s Choice Award will be announced at the end of the show. Visitors can vote once per day.
Red Door Art Gallery is located at 418 Dakota Ave., Wahpeton.