We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Welke and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
My mother, my protector, died suddenly as I was just going into my sixteenth year. This and other family dynamics changed my life forever, which resulted in me renting my first apartment by the time I was eighteen years old. I worked part time, bought a used car, and enrolled myself in school. At my age, it was scary and a risk.
I later received study scholarships which allowed me to take my first trip to Communist Poland. It was with extremely limited Polish language skills, no travel experience, and no real knowledge about where I was going except that it was part of my family heritage, that I managed to gather the courage to make this leap into the unknown. At the time, I believed this trip was going to be the only way I would ever get to travel abroad. I trusted the American government knew what they were doing to allow me to study abroad under a hostile regime. I was terrified and excited. It was a risk.
As an artist, I take a risk every day I walk into my studio. I never know where my work will take me from day to day. I prefer to work within a framework of nature and things in nature but that is still wide open for exploration and interpretation. My method for creating the work is to allow myself to be open to just about anything that feels or could feel right for me. I try to push my boundaries. You could think of it as trying to have a beginner mind, a child’s mind or just allowing myself to be open and spontaneous to the moment.
My work is created from either a memory or a feeling about something. The process is to simply start playing with either paint or materials to be used in the piece. One step leads to the next until something starts to make sense to me. Even then, the piece will probably change considerably before I finish it. Is this risky? Yes, very much so because there is a great possibility for failure, expense in time and materials and even the overhead of renting a studio.
What I learned about risk is that nothing new or exciting happens without some amount of risk. As a sensitive person, it is very risky to allow myself to be vulnerable and open to criticism. To grow, to change, to imagine possibilities and act on those possibilities, all require risk.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a first time, proud recipient of a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant doing research and new mixed media paintings on the topic of prairie and farmland burns, renewal of plants and soil health. This subject evolved out of my interest in nature and the cycles of nature. I heard about prairie burns and how they are used to rejuvenate plants and soil. It was an “Aha!” moment when I made the connection between my interest in nature and saw the potential for new artistic work with a focus on burns, renewal, and soil health.
This new work is experimental and exploratory as I discover ways to incorporate prairie ash, organic material, and collage into mixed media paintings. Along this journey, I learned how to use a torch and fire for making a painting and how to make paper using wildflowers and grasses from the prairie.
This has been such an exciting experience for me because I also had the opportunity to teach two Covid compliant, mixed media, intergenerational painting workshops, share my research and experiments in an art exhibition at the Northfield Arts Guild along with an online YouTube, virtual art opening, slide presentation, discussion, and artist interview about this project.
I exhibit and sell my art at Tres Leches Art Gallery in the Northrup King Building in NE Minneapolis for the past six years. My work has been viewed locally and nationally. It is included in private and corporate collections such at US Bank, Nordstrom, and Regions Hospital.
My professional experience in the arts started with commercial training and work in graphic arts, illustration, and magazine work. Later, I received a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Fine Arts. I worked at various jobs and did some traveling. I went to NYC for an MFA at Pratt Institute and continued working in the arts in New York. I moved to the west coast, studied, and worked in the Arts Management field and continued doing my own art and exhibiting it whenever possible. Later, I moved back to my childhood neighborhood in NE Minneapolis, Minnesota, which had now become the official arts district.
Throughout my journey, I worked my way through school with mostly arts related jobs and took out student loans. Along the way, I had to dig deep inside myself to find the courage, curiosity, inspiration, and belief that I could be better than I am. I experienced the pain of failure and rejection and learned that these things are all part of the process.
I learned to trust my instincts. There is so much more to being an artist than showing up daily at the studio, improving your skills, creating the art and being in an exhibition. I am constantly facing new challenges which force me to go beyond my comfort zone in areas of technology, social media, speaking and writing about my work.
What I would like the world to know about me is that I am passionate about the arts. I continue to be curious and try to learn something new every day!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Let’s start with a leisurely drive around the lakes in Uptown Minneapolis, then a visit to First Avenue where Prince got his start.
Afterwards, we would go to the Mississippi River in Downtown Minneapolis. This is the heart of the milling district. We are world famous for our history of milling and it all started right here along the River. We would visit the Mill City Museum, walk along the Stone Arch Bridge with a spectacular view of the Guthrie Theater and walk out on the Guthrie’s Endless Bridge that overlooks the River area.
Next stop would be a ride on a fun Segway Tour along the Mississippi to learn about Nicollet Island, the old brothels and hear about the immigrant bars and churches in the nearby neighborhoods.
Crossing into NE Minneapolis, we would enjoy a spectacular, homemade afternoon lunch at Emily’s Lebanese Deli, doing business for the past 38 years!
We would visit the Tattersall Distillery for unrivaled spirits and liqueurs in the Historic Thorp Building, located in the NE Minneapolis Arts District.
Finally, on a Saturday afternoon or during a First Thursday of the month evening, we would visit the Northrup King Building, the heart of the Arts District, with over 300 artists’ studios and galleries for a fun, inspiring experience!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to my husband, Rich, and my son, Jeff, for their boundless enthusiasm and steadfast support of me and my art. My childhood and other longtime girlfriends have stood by me throughout the years with praise and encouragement, every step of the way. My colleagues from Tres Leches Art Gallery have always been incredibly supportive to me during my six years with the gallery. My shoutout goes to all my art visitors, students, guests and collectors who stopped in front of my work with a kind word and bought my paintings.
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