The arts enrich our lives and mark our history. We, as humans, use the arts to express our inner self.

For 68 years, there has been a tradition of the Annual Steele County Art Exhibition, which is now held at the Owatonna Arts Center. In 1952, the artists who worked for Josten’s and the art faculty at the high school organized the first Steele County Art Exhibition, which was on display in the Gainey Room of the Public library.

With a hiatus because of the pandemic, the Arts Center did not host the exhibition in 2020. This spring, we are continuing the tradition. The 68th annual Steele County Art Exhibition opens May 2 and runs through May 30.

The show is like the State of the Union address, because the exhibition is open to all artists who are 18 years of age and older. There are novices and well established artists expressing themselves in a variety of media and subject matter. Their choices of subject tell us about who we are. There are always new artists that appear and artists that we have come to know over the years.

In these uncertain times, the arts give shape, color to one’s ideas, emotions and coping as only the arts can accomplish. This exhibition invites all to look, think and enjoy. 

The Owatonna Arts Center is housed in the historic impressive castle-like structure that was State School for Neglected and Dependent Children on the West Hills Campus. Beside the new gallery exhibitions, one can take in all there is to explore at the Arts Center and its history as Minnesota’s only state-run orphanage.

Grand Historic buildings are decorated with impressive murals on the ceiling and the Arts Center boasts its own in the library, which is one of its smallest rooms. As you enter the room and discover the ceiling you are in an enchanted world. This imaginative fantastical mural was painted by Lynette Yencho. The creation is titled “Art Books and Inspiration”. Take some time to come visit and sit, pick up a book or just enjoy the ceiling.

The Owatonna Arts Center hosts new exhibitions each month. The galleries will soon be draped in beautiful hand quilted and hand appliqued quilts by Victoria Miller. She learned to needle turn applique from renowned applique artist and pattern designer Patricia Cox in 1988. Many of the quilts on display are Cox’s patterns.

“When shopping for fabrics I always envision whether I can use the fabric for a shapely rose petal, a curved leaf, a stately tree, maybe a bird wing, etc.” says Victoria. She also says Pat always encouraged ‘Let the fabric do the work’. This stunning quilt show will open June 6 and run through June 27.

Owatonna Arts Center Gallery hours are 1–5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday. Check our website to learn more about the Owatonna Arts Center at

Silvan Durben is the executive director of the Owatonna Arts Center.

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