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Artist Van Moorlehem translates her feelings into paintings

Bonnie Van Moorlehem stands with one of works that will be on display this month at the Nobles County Arts Center. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON — Bonnie Van Moorlehem considers herself a “late bloomer” when it comes to artistic expression. The Minneota woman discovered her passion for painting when her children were grown and she went back to college.

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“I’d always worked with plants and therapeutic landscaping,” she explained. “I’m a registered horticultural therapist. When my youngest child went to college, I went back to school myself to get a psychology degree so I could become a therapist — I was a technician. But I got sidetracked by art and ended up with a double major in psychology and art at Southwest Minnesota State University.”

After experimenting with both acrylic and oil, Van Moorlehem is now mostly working a new kind of acrylic paint, called Golden Open, that has some of the best characteristics of both mediums.

“It handles like oil, but the cleanup is truly like an acrylic,” she described. “It dries faster than oil, but not as fast as regular acrylic does.”

Van Moorlehem’s paintings are abstracts, although she clarifies that designation.

“It’s very abstract, but there’s probably a little more design to it than someone who just throws paint on the canvas,” she explained.

Her latest paintings are expressions of her emotions in the wake of the deaths of two family members within six months.

“I had been doing Minnesota landscapes, an abstract view of the Minnesota landscape,” she said. “When I lost my mother and my sister, I started painting my grief instead of being someone who journals their grief. I feel a lot of people can identify with it, because most of us have lost somebody.”

Van Moorlehem’s mother died of lung cancer in September 2012, just five months after her diagnosis.

“And my sister fought ovarian cancer for nine and half years,” she continued. “But her death was unexpected. We weren’t expecting her to go when she did, but at the same time, you know with ovarian cancer you don’t win.”

Van Moorlehem’s current exhibit at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington features 25 of her “journal paintings” of various sizes. Most were created over the last two years.

“With quite a few of the paintings, I’ll include an explanation,” she noted. “There’s one called ‘The Light from Within’ that is dedicated to my sister, Becky. It’s about how the spirit is beautiful. Toward the end, she made a comment that she was so old and ugly. I clarified to her that it was the cancer, that wasn’t her. When I see her, I only see a beautiful spirit doing everything she could to stay alive for her daughter, granddaughter and husband.”

Such explanations evoke what Van Moorlehem’s intentions were in creating the painting, but she also hopes viewers will find their own meaning in each painting.

“I hope they identify or express some of the feelings they have had, and yet I hope it’s still a sense of beauty,” she said. “I don’t feel it’s an exhibit of anger. Mostly it’s the process of accepting death, that death is a natural part of the life cycle. I feel like even though I’ve been through this, I still find beauty in life.”

The opening reception for Van Moorlehem’s exhibit will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building (Nobles County Library), 407 12th St., Worthington. The exhibit continues through August. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-8245 or email

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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