- Associated Press - Monday, January 29, 2018

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Mary Solberg was working as a land surveyor and running her own arts gallery when she took a gigantic leap of faith. The La Crosse, Wisconsin native went back to school for a degree in art to pursue a life as a full-time artist.

It was a gamble that paid off quite well.

Solberg’s reputation and career took off, and 14 years after she started to paint full-time, she’s now reached what she’s called the high point of her career as a professional artist: an exhibition at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

“I always wanted to do the art thing,” she told Winona Daily News . “When I made the leap of faith it was a big, big decision in my life.”

Solberg’s exhibit, “Water Portraits,” opened earlier this month. A walk and talk on a recent Saturday afternoon drew a crowd of 125 people - more than three times the average attendance for such events, according to curator of collections and exhibitions Jon Swanson.

Solberg’s exhibit and an exhibit from Winona natives Leo and Marilyn Smith are on display until May 20.

Swanson said he’s been familiar with Solberg’s work for about a decade, and a year ago he reached out to her about exhibiting some of her work at the museum.

“I wanted to push to get some new work (at the museum) that hasn’t been exhibited before,” he said.

Solberg’s exhibit features 28 large scale portraits classically rendered with a lot of texture and a great deal of emotion.

The portraits mostly depict swimming girls in swim hats, or what Solberg calls “swim girls.” The portraits are large, and they’re more about conveying emotion rather than depicting a particular figure or image.

“I’m inspired by classical masters from the renaissance,” Solberg said. “There’s something about (the portraits) that looks contemporary, but they also look like they’re from classical times.”

Swanson enjoys that about Solberg’s work. He said the vintage looks of the subjects in Solberg’s portraits, and their size, really challenge the viewer. And, given the portraits are water- and swimming-themed, they fit the style of art the museum gravitates toward.

“They’re very painterly, and I like the mixed mediums,” he said. “They confront the viewer and challenge you to look into their eyes and figure out who they are, what their stories are.”

Many of Solberg’s portraits are cast against a backdrop familiar to many in the area - the Driftless Region.

After spending a great deal of time living in La Crosse, first working as a land surveyor (following her father’s footsteps), then as the owner of an art gallery and arts cooperative called Odin Arts Cooperative-Gallery, much of Solberg’s work on display contain elements of the Driftless Region - bluffs, the Mississippi River, and rolling hills and valleys.

Solberg’s business hosted a lot of performance-art events like poetry readings, plays and music shows alongside different art galleries on display. Much of what influences her now comes from her experiences living in this area.

She said when she transitioned to creating art full time it was a leap of faith, and that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her husband at the time.

“He was really supportive of my choice to do that,” she said. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to feel the comfort level I did if I didn’t have his support.”


Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com

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