Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Making art one brush stroke at a time

 

August 8, 2019

Lois Johnson

A variety of art is displayed on the walls of Donna LaBeau's studio.

Donna LaBeau of Moose Lake liked to draw when she was a child but it wasn't until years later that she developed her artistic talent.

"I liked to draw when I was kid," she said in a recent interview in her home. "I wanted to go to commercial art school but my mother told me that artists don't make any money. I took a commercial art class years later and loved it!"

Now she has been creating art for almost 40 years.

"I paint with watercolors, oils, and pastels but I mostly paint with watercolors," she said. "A dozen years ago, I got into knitting, a few years ago I got into jewelry, and I got into quilting a couple of years ago."

Life interfered with LaBeau's art journey.

"I married right out of high school and had four kids," she said. "And we moved several times."

LaBeau also spoke of an addiction to alcohol that delayed her progress.

"When I recovered from that, I remembered my goal," she said. "It all came back. I wanted to be an artist."

A teacher inspired LaBeau.

"I met a lady teacher and I followed her when she taught in several places in the region," she said. "And then, 24 years ago, I went to art school in Burnsville. I worked there as a custom framer and took classes there. Eventually I had a studio there."

LaBeau said that was a highlight in her artistic life.

"They would have art shows," she explained. "It was fun. People would park for blocks and blocks to come to the shows."

Trips to see her daughter, who was suffering from cancer, gave LaBeau the opportunity to take up knitting.

"I starting knitting on the trips to see her in Hudson, Wisconsin," she said.

Her daughter died 12 years ago, she added.

Painting was still in LaBeau's blood. After more classes, she became a teacher of painting.

"I taught oil and watercolor painting in a studio, and taught plein air outside."

LaBeau explained that "plein air" is a French term that refers to painting outdoors, instead of in a studio.

"A friend came recently and we went out on the bike trail and painted," she said.

One of LaBeau's favorite artist retreats was to Red Lodge, Montana.

"A bunch of women would gather at my friend Frannie's in Red Lodge to paint. That got me out of plein air painting. I loved being outside in the summer, being with women who were like-minded.

"Now I paint with a group in Carlton, the Northern Artists. Sue Brown Chapin is the president."

She added that the group meets once a month except during the summer.

As LaBeau studied painting in more lessons, she learned different techniques.

"I took a lot of classes at the Minnesota Realism School," she said. "I learned classical realism the old way. With that, you start out one way and then find your own style.

"Now I am a lot looser in painting. My vision has changed. I was more realistic, now I consider myself more impressionistic. I'm getting into the years where my eyesight isn't as good."

Grand Rapids is one place where LaBeau lived that has had a lasting impression on her.

"I got very involved with the MacRostie Art Center there," she said. "I still have my work for sale in the gallery at the art center."

On a tour of her studio, the variety of her art is displayed on the walls. Some are oils, some are pastels, while others are watercolors.

LaBeau said that she is having fun with a new style of watercolor, lost and found edges.

"You can look straight at the painting and see the scene as if you were looking down on it," she explained. "And there are things to discover as one looks at it: a cup handle, a horse head and a clock."

There are a lot of still lifes, some scenic paintings and others of people. Each has a story.

A portrait of a ballerina sitting on a bench tying her shoe strap is of a 14-year old girl that she once knew. "Before the Dance" is the name of the painting.

"She was a dancer," she said. "Now she has grown up and gone on with her life."

Another is of a woman sitting at an artist's easel.

"I painted that in a class where we had a Russian teacher," she explained. "He didn't like to see women in pedal pushers. I painted that woman wearing a skirt. I really like that one."

One painting is rather unusual. It is of dying sunflowers hanging out of a glass pitcher.

"With my artist's eye, those dying flowers reminded me of watching my mother age. It was such a great example of the beauty of aging. I named that one 'The Beauty of Letting Go.'"

LaBeau showed other examples of her work such as painting of flowers reflected in a store window at night and a small watercolor where very pale pinks and blues in the sky are reflected on water.

LaBeau said that she won a ribbon for a painting that she had on exhibition. However, entering competitions is no longer her interest.

"I don't care about that anymore," she said. "That's part of aging."

LaBeau's journey through 40 years of painting has not been smooth.

"I never went to college," she said. "I have no degree. It was all hard knocks. But there is something in me that is a teacher. It is in me if people want to learn. I am still painting. I will probably die with a paintbrush in my hand."

LaBeau's paintings can be seen and purchased at MacRostie's Art Center in Grand Rapids and at Two Loons in Duluth. For more information, call LaBeau at 651-600-7205.

 

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