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Collage Collaboration: People from diverse walks of life join together for art exhibit

Some of the participants in the collage exhibit at the Nobles County Art Center show off their work: (front, from left) Natzali Morales, Amy Ernst, David Blanchard, Sullivan Merrigan, (back, from left) James Van Horn, Joel Krekelberg, Tricia Mikle, Tim Middagh, Ellen Baker-Merrigan, Gail Holinka, Evelyn Renken and Rhonda Fueston. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Currently lining the walls of the Nobles County Art Center gallery are collages created by about 30 people. Some of the contributors are professional artists; many are not. But they each took a dip in the well of their own creativity to participate in the exhibit.

The show was organized by local artist Tricia Mikle. A retired Worthington High School art instructor, Mikle began focusing on collage a couple of years ago. Collage — a word which literally means “pasted paper” in its French origin — is the technique of creating artwork from an “assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole.” The term was coined by Pablo Picasso and French artist Georges Braque.

“Probably about a year and a half ago, I was doing collages from the fancy papers that you buy,” explained Mikle about her own experimentations. “They are expensive papers — specialty papers from Japan and other places throughout the world. I just thought: Why not just take the mail, limit myself to what comes in the junk mail with one day’s worth, and see what imagery I can come up with? Some days were really good; others were not. Maybe I’d get a calendar that had wonderful grids to work with and colored images. The insides of envelopes took on a whole new meaning — the patterns, colors, textures. Some I’ve done just using the inside of envelopes.”

Mikle became engrossed in the junk mail collage concept and discovered that other people were interested in what she was doing, so she encouraged them to give it a try.

“As I like collaboration anyway, that started the ball rolling on having a collaboration with people, whether artist or non-artist, to create a collage or many collages. It’s the perfect medium for the beginning artist or non-artist to dip their big toe into the water, to see if they like art.”

Mikle recruited from among her friends, family, former colleagues and acquaintances, providing basic materials when necessary and encouraging them to tap into their creativity.

“Some of them were stressed at first, but they all ended up with the same comment: ‘It was fun,’” related Mikle. “The other thing that happened along the way was some people didn’t want to be limited by the junk mail, so it evolved from one day of junk mail to no junk mail at all. So we have people who have sewn bits of fabric onto burlap to create the collage, and one person who took things from their desktop and put them together. It’s an ongoing evolving process of collaboration.”

By the time she went to hang the show, Mikle had assembled 32 collages from other people and included 25 of her own junk mail creations. Participants, she noted, range in age from 4 to 72 and represent a variety of occupations, including teachers, an information technology specialist, a garlic farmer, public relations person, two lawyers and a real-estate appraiser.

Natzali Morales, at age 9, isn’t the youngest participant, but is certainly one of the most enthusiastic. When Mikle asked her to make a collage, Morales immediately applied herself to the task, first looking on the Internet for some ideas.

“I didn’t even need help,” she said. “It took me maybe an hour and a half.”

Morales’ collage is of a bird sitting on a branch, fashioned out of a variety of colorful papers. She calls it “Coco the Bird.”

WHS art instructor Gail Holinka stuck to the junk mail challenge, turning it into a statement piece called “Go Green Forward.”

“I get so much junk mail. By the time I get around to going through it, I have piles of it,” she said. “Most of it goes right into the trash. In fact, the day I was doing it, two more catalogs arrived in the mail.”

The last time Joel Krekelberg remembers making a collage, he was in the third grade — more than a few years back.

“We used pheasant feathers to make flowers,” he recalled. “I still have it hanging in my house.”

Krekelberg was one of those who took a unique approach to the collage assignment by using fabric instead of paper.

“We were in the middle of quilting rag quilts,” he said. “So that’s where the inspiration coming from. We were using fish fabric, so I snipped it, washed it and put it on burlap.”

Grade school was also the last time Worthington farmer and photography hobbyist Tim Middagh had attempted a collage. He found inspiration paging through a catalog.

“I saw lots of eyeballs, so I worked with that,” he explained, ending up with hundreds of peepers gazing out from his work. “It was a great idea, but then you start cutting them out and think: What did I get myself into?”

For Mikle, the collaborative aspect of the exhibit was a gratifying experience.

“There aren’t any similar end results,” she said. “That is what is fun about coming to see this show. You’re going to see people in a new light.”

The exhibit opens with a reception 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 show will continue through May. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-8245.

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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