CORRECTION: This article was corrected at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday to reflect the painting price of $170. 

Northfield artist Riki Kölbl-Nelson has crossed another item off of her bucket list.

She’s raising money for girls’ education through art by fusing art and education, two things that have featured prominently in her life through her 70 years.

Kölbl-Nelson is hosting an art show and benefit called “70 for 70” from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday at the Weitz Center for Creativity where 70 paintings will be for sale at three different price points: $85, $170 and $300. The art work included in “70 for 70” dates back to the 70s and includes paintings, batiks and some fiber work.

The sale of each painting will fund one year of education for a girl from Sri Lanka (all $85 paintings), Afghanistan (all $170 paintings) or India (all $300 paintings). The funds raised through art sales will be routed through Orphan Sponsorship International for the girls in Sri Lanka and India.

The girls who are sponsored through “70 for 70” in Afghanistan, will attend Marefat High School, a school that places a special emphasis on the education of women. Marefat High School is a community supported school based in Kabul, Afghanistan. It opened its first school in Pakistan just as the Afghan Civil War began in 1994.

Education and art have always been passions for Kölbl-Nelson. When she was a girl in Austria in the midst of World War II, she dreamed of being an artist. She was the only one of three sisters to attend and graduate high school, which was not a common thing for girls to do at that time, according to Kölbl-Nelson.

“I myself did not have an easy time getting my higher education,” she said. “I heard the traditional arguments from my parents against higher education for women. You know, ‘you don’t want to be more educated than your husband.’ I know my parents only wanted the best for me, they wanted me to have a good life and were used to more traditional things. But I really liked school, I had a hungry mind.”

Tradition is one thing that may be an obstacle for the girls Kölbl-Nelson aims to help as well, according to Dina Fesler of the Children’s Culture Connection.

“For the girls getting these scholarships, most of the challenge will be getting their families to let them use the scholarship money,” said Fesler. “We’ve worked to find families who are open and would encourage their daughters to get an education.”

After she finished high school, Kölbl-Nelson got work at the Salzburg Airport in Austria. Sometimes, she was awarded a free airline ticket to travel somewhere as a benefit of her job. When she got such a ticket to New York City, she took some unpaid time off of work and took off for America.

“I came [to America] and took about three months traveling on a bus around the country. I wasn’t really sure if I intended to stay,” she said. “When I had a chance to go to college in North Carolina through a scholarship, I decided I had to stay.”

Kölbl-Nelson attended the University of North Carolina and got her first bachelor’s degree in English, which she quickly followed with a master’s degree in English also from UNC. Later in life, after she had relocated to Minnesota, Kölbl-Nelson pursued a bachelor’s degree in art at St. Olaf College and then a master of fine arts from the University of Minnesota.

“After my MFA, I thought ‘Riki, they call this one the terminal degree, it is time to stop,” she said with a laugh. But Kölbl-Nelson is still active in education, teaching classes at the Northfield Senior Center.

“I am getting nervous for the event,” said Kölbl-Nelson. “But I keep reminding myself that even if I sell only one painting, I have changed a life.”

At the time this article was written, seven of Kölbl-Nelson’s paintings were sold.

Reach reporter Ashley Klemer at 645-1115 or follow her on @AshleyKlemer.

Reach reporter Ashley Klemer at 645-1115 or follow her on @AshleyKlemer. 

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