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Revelers wend their way in New York's Times Square to ring in the New Year, Jan. 1, 1942. An estimated half million turned out to celebrate that year. Crowds were far more sparse as we moved into 2021.

Artist plays with the idea of duality at the Owatonna Arts Center
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Does form follow function? Or does function follow form? Or is it both?

Those are just some of the many philosophical questions that artist Eric Evenson asks viewers in his “Creation Carrying Creation to Creation” exhibit now up at the Owatonna Arts Center.

The St. Paul-based artist uses an assortment of media to achieve different colors and uses a layering technique to develop different textures. Collaging media together, such as watercolor, colored pencil, oil pastels and magazine clippings gives dimension to each of his compositions.

“They all react and interact with each other in different ways,” Evenson said of the various media.

He describes his work as eclectic, adding that his style explores the ideas of form and no form, having structure and having no structure or more generally the concept of duality and the fusion of the two ideas coming together.

While anyone can enjoy and appreciate his art, Evenson said creating has always been about the inner journey and freedom. Making art is something he does for himself, adding that he rarely exhibits his work.

“Is there a place outside of time and space, where two dreams cross paths, creating a transformation of healing, into new visions of life? This has been my lifelong quest,” Evenson said in his artist statement.

The show’s keynote piece, “Creation Carrying Creation to Creation,” represents the recurring themes of the fusion of duality. The triptych features three different media, watercolor, colored pencil and oil pastel, thus continuing the theme of threes. A closer look at the individual compositions reveals thousands of drawn puzzle pieces, 3,000 per piece in fact.

A number of his other pieces also include puzzles or grids. It’s a technique he picked up after discovering the joy of drawing a puzzle and the leisure in putting a puzzle together. The activity involves both having structure and having no structure, coming together. Once again highlighting the repetitive theme of duality throughout his work.

Another common element found in Evenson’s work is the use of magazine clippings in collages. Years of cutting photos out from the glossy pages left Evenson with magazines riddled with holes.

“When you're flipping through the pages you're seeing through the holes to other pages, and there's patterns and designs,” Evenson said. “I thought, what can I do that relates to what I'm doing, how could I use the scrap stuff that you just throw away, which is a lot of what my art is about ... paying attention to what nobody pays attention to.”

His attention turned toward the holes in the magazine, Evenson removes the images and rearranges them to create a desired composition. Then he creates a grid with rectangles the size of his collage on his chosen canvas. He sets his collage to the side and takes the bottom most piece as reference to draw on an adjacent grid rectangle, building upward through the collage’s layers. He also draws the collage's reverse side on another adjacent grid rectangle before gluing the collage down in between the drawings. Upon closer inspection, onlookers may notice the patterns.

“Once you get used to the works you can see that they're all related,” Evenson said. “They're all related to the way I move my hand, even though I channel them in different directions.”

With his work, he hopes to share that beginnings and endings are within each other but not separate. And to get his audience to pay more attention to patterns in creation. Viewers of the exhibit can expect to see rhythms, patterns, colors and marks of energy, as well as negative spaces that activate visual stimuli.

Life is not a duality, but rather a “collision” of the two, Evenson said. During these collisions people will experience tension, but eventually they’ll feel the other side, which is harmony. When that happens there is a new opening into a new vision of life, Evenson said.

“It's both the interest in the spiritual journey and what kept revealing itself in my own art. So it's not that I had an idea and I wanted to translate it, it’s that what was coming out of my work was dictating the idea and my idea was dictating the work,” Evenson said. “They are both working hand and hand with each other.”

While his art depicts his own personal journey, viewers are sure to find their own connections, as we are all connected in some way.

"We're not exclusive because we’re not separate,” Evenson said.

Downtown coffee shop draws 'good' reception
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Even though it’s been in operation for less than two weeks, a downtown coffee shop run by two area artists has already proven a hit with locals.

After months of hard work, Good Day Coffee opened its doors to the public Dec. 18. The new coffee shop is located at 318 Central Ave. — the same storefront that was  home until recently to Bluebird Cakery.

Six days a week from 6:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., Good Day serves deluxe coffee and other beverages to go with handmade baked goods. It’s run by Jess Prill, who runs Fleur de Lis Gallery next door to the shop, and Northfield artist Cathy Collinson, who former owner of Glass Garden Beads.

Until recently, both Bluebird and The Cheese Cave brought significant foot traffic to the building, turning it into something of a downtown hub. When both closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Prill’s art gallery felt the effects acutely.

In something of a rare COVID-era redemption story, both of those spaces are now filled with bustling businesses. Since November, the Cheese Cave space has been home to El Jefe, formerly a popular Mexican food truck.

When Bluebird closed, early risers had few choices in Faribault for a hot cup of coffee to get their day started right. Jokingly, Collinson suggested to Prill that the two start up their own coffee shop — but the more they thought about it, the more they realized it made sense.

Both Prill and Collision bring experience to their new venture. Prill spent seven years crafting custom cappuccinos as a Starbucks barista, while Collinson trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and is well known for her delicious pies. Neither were under any illusions that starting a coffee shop in the middle of the pandemic would be easy. While they’ve managed to get it going, Good Day isn’t currently able to offer indoor seating, much to the disappointment of its customers.

Prill said that traffic thus far has been steady and greater than she anticipated, although she came into it with relatively low expectations. Notably, she said that a lot of customers are placing and picking up orders for multiple people.

Though they are in the process of training staff, Collinson and Prill are working the shop every day for now. Collinson does all of the baking in the upstairs kitchen, while Prill completes orders downstairs — something that even with her experience, has come with a bit of a learning curve.

“I did coffee, but it’s been over 20 years,” she said. “It’s come back really fast, but you kind of have to find your rhythm.”

Things are going smoothly enough that the coffee shop is already starting to expand its offerings. On Wednesday, it started serving Cold Brew Nitro Coffee, and Collinson’s pies could be coming as soon as this spring.

Once they can host patrons inside, Prill said she wants to keep things from getting too crowded. While Bluebird had a small couch and chairs, Good Day is more likely to stick to just a small bar along the window, with additional seating available in the adjacent indoor atrium.

Prill said that a lot of customers have thanked her for bringing a coffee shop back to downtown. Among those enthusiastic about Good Day is Julia Gates, a former Bluebird customer who lives and works near to downtown.

“I’m very very glad that we have another local place in town,” she said. “Downtown really needs more places that the community can meet.”

After 12 years on Faribault School Board, Engbrecht takes his leave

A lot can happen in 12 years, and if anyone knows that from a School Board perspective, it’s Jason Engbrecht.

“It’s been such a tremendous experience for me and feel that I’ve been given so many opportunities,” said Engbrecht, who completed his final term on the board Monday, Dec. 14.

The Faribault School Board marked Engbrecht’s first entrance into public service. It was 2008, and he remembers the community experiencing “a lot of turmoil” as the board and teachers at the time had difficulties settling contracts. Teachers had even talked about going on strike.

Engbrecht, who moved to Faribault in 2002 after being hired as a professor at St. Olaf College, realized the district needed to improve its lines of communication. That understanding ignited his interest in running for a seat on the board for the first time. He was elected along with James Wolf and Jerry Robicheau.

“Everything happens pretty slowly on the School Board,” Engbrecht said. “That’s one of the first things I had to learn. One of the biggest issues was that the levy that supported the schools was seriously underfunded in Faribault. We were the lowest in the Big 9 (conference) at that time … That didn’t change overnight.”

Three “big things” come to mind as Engbrecht reflects on the changes that occurred in the district during his 12 years on the board. The first was the passing of the 2013 levy, which had failed the previous year. The levy allowed the district to rehire teachers whose positions had been cut and hire additional specialists and staff positions.

“There’s no question, changing that levy and making sure it’s in line with other districts, that was the biggest thing that’s been achieved while I’ve been on the board,” Engbrecht said. “That was a big deal.”

In 2013, as School Board chair, Jason Engbrecht presented to community members the details of a proposed levy during a forum at Faribault High School. That levy passed. (News file photo)

The seven-period day at Faribault High School, which began this academic year with the passage of another levy in 2019, is another major achievement that comes to mind for Engbrecht. From the time he first ran for School Board, he said he advocated for the restoration of seven periods at FHS. It's hoped the increase will allow students to take more electives and reduce open enrollment, an increasing problem for the district. While the change didn’t occur before his oldest daughter, Abigail, graduated from FHS, his younger daughter, Sarah, is able to experience seven periods as a junior.

Engbrecht also recognizes the steady change in demographics as a significant transition for the school district. While noting that many people of color have lived in Faribault for generations, Engbrecht said a demographic shift happened more dramatically during his time on the School Board, with the school-age population than it has in the general community.

“A few years ago the Faribault Public Schools’ white students became a small minority in the schools, when students of color crossed the 50% threshold,” Engbrecht said. “... I think we still have many people in the community who don’t realize that.”

Engbrecht said this change in demographics has altered the way the board, staff and teachers think about equity and inclusion, and the conversation is ongoing. One of his dreams for the School Board going forward is that more people of color will run for a seat on the board, and be elected, so the board can more accurately represent the district's population.

“I hope we continue to embrace that,” Engbrecht said. “I think we have lots of people on board with that idea, and I hope we can continue to grow in that way.”

Wearing the hats of a School Board member and college professor at the same time offered Engbrecht the unique experience of seeing two perspectives at once. Sitting in the board seat, he understood how his decisions impacted those working directly with students. Now, he said his experience on the board has influenced his approach to his new administration position at St. Olaf.

An opportunity to serve as the associate dean for Natural Science and Mathematics at St. Olaf College is a big reason why Engbrecht decided not to run for re-election. Throughout his career — prior to this administration position — he taught as a physics professor.

“I am thrilled with the current makeup of the board," he said. "I think it still is a really dynamic and committed group of people, so I’m really optimistic of their ability to lead going forward, both at the board level and the staff level. I’m very excited by that.”

During the virtual board meeting Dec. 7, board members and Superintendent Todd Sesker said their farewells to both Engbrecht and Yvette Marthaler, who served on the board for eight years.

“When I first ran for the board, I ran alongside Jason,” Robicheau said. “I did not know who Jason was at the time, but I got to know him and respect what he brings to the board.”

Speaking of Engbrecht and Marthaler, Robicheau said they were both driven by one statement: “Let’s do what’s right for kids.”

Said Sesker of Engbrecht: “You’ve been a positive influence on me and many others because, like Jerry said, you’re here for the right reasons."

Other board members commented on Engbrecht’s thoughtfulness in addressing various topics, his willingness to tackle difficult conversations in a public forum and his leadership abilities.

Engbrecht said he feels privileged to have served on the board with influential community members, among them three former superintendents: Jerry Robicheau, John Currie and Dick Berge. He served as board chair for four years and credited Robicheau with setting an example of making sure all voices are heard.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more from the position than I was ever able to give,” Engbrecht said “… Working with people I’ve had the opportunity to work with has been an experience I could never repay.”