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David Strom at Nobles County Art Center.

Hangin' out with David Strom: Exhibit by Windom artist at Nobles County Art Center

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WORTHINGTON — Contrary to how the attached picture appears, David Strom has not lost his mind — at least not yet. He was just ready for a bit of frivolity before he got down to the serious business of hanging his paintings at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington.

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It’s been 10 years since the Windom artist has exhibited the full array of his work at the Worthington gallery, and Strom’s large paintings were stacked deep around the perimeter of the room, awaiting nail, hammer and level. But before such work could commence, Strom took time to talk a bit about his work and lifelong passion for art.

“It started in about fourth grade, when I figured out my friend, Art, would do my history work for me if I’d do his art for him,” explained Strom, noting the irony in his friend’s name. “Another coincidence is that the second letters in my full name spell out a-r-t.”

Like many young people, Strom was quick to leave his hometown in the rearview mirror, heading to the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in the Twin Cities. But once his studies were completed, he returned to Windom, where he operated a small roadside market and did artwork on the side.

“They just tore down the building where it used to be,” he said. “I sold bedding plants in the spring, fruits and vegetables in the summer, and I had a lot of time to draw. Ninety-nine percent of the people went right on by, so I’d sit there and do pen-and-ink drawings of my friends.”

One of the drawings done in his market free time had a “jungle” feel to it — the beginning of a theme he pursued for the next 10 years and that continues to crop up occasionally in his work.

“I tried to get the energy of those drawings into my paintings,” he said. “After that, there have been three or four different roads I’m simultaneously traveling.”

Eventually, the jungle drawings evolved into drawings and paintings of grain bins — both pen and ink and acrylic.

“The jungle drawings had huts, and they are basically the same shape as grain bins — basically a triangle over a rectangle,” he explained.

Some of the grain bins are surrounded by connected vignettes of rural life, including wind turbines.

“Wind turbines have started to come into my work,” he noted. “I’m still riding the fence. Either they are a three-petaled prairie flower or a weed. Depends on your take. There are also round spots, the round bales, and they turn into holes in the painting. I also use a diamond pattern in my work — a fabric that underlies that you’re looking through.”

Some of the works began with just a border of grain bins.

“The idea was that if I did the border, I didn’t have to do the middle,” said Strom, who eventually came up with something to fill up the middle.

“My paintings are typically many layers, and some of each of the layers remains,” he explained. “I’ll change part of it, move part of it. It’s the evolution of them. They grow. They evolve. The pen and ink is more immediate. There’s no going back.”

Working with pen and ink on canvas is a bit of a challenge, as the ink doesn’t immediately absorb into canvas like it does on paper. Strom dips his pen into the ink and applies it, drip cloth in hand, just in case.

Since Strom most often works on a large canvas — up to 5- by 6-foot — he uses paint for the bold lines and larger forms like the wind turbines and ink for the smaller details. But there are times when he fills in the squares — especially the diamond patterns — all with ink, a tedious undertaking.

“I measure my life in vinyl records,” he said, pointing to a detailed square on one of the black-and-white works. “This is one vinyl record.”

Strom has the luxury of time and space to work on his art. He and wife Marilee have owned and operated First Floral Hallmark in Windom for 35 years. They have a florist who now handles much of that aspect of the business, although he continues to do custom framing and holiday displays.

“Marilee is trying to make it so most days I don’t have to go into the store,” he credited.

A few years ago, the Stroms built an 18- by 44-foot studio at their home.

“It’s modeled after the old hog barns or chicken barns with the windows,” he said. “It’s a nice size, and I have a couple of other studios downtown, and I have a place where I’d like to build a new one. You can’t have too many studios.”

Strom considers himself fortunate to be able to continuously create new artworks without the financial worry about selling them, but he has also been successful marketing his creations through many different venues. He recently participated in the Artisans Road Trip at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji, Iowa, and was part of group shows at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa, and the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, Iowa. In December, his work will be featured at the Witter Gallery in Storm Lake, Iowa, and in January at Riverview Café in Minneapolis. He has also been selected to exhibit at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wis., next spring.

“Phipps was a juried show,” he explained. “They also have a healing arts program that does rotating shows at their hospital, so they have three or four artists at a time showing at the hospital. In 2010, I got involved with that, and that exposed me to them.

“It’s been a lot of exposure,” he said of the recent interest, adding, “but then a friend told me that you can die from exposure.”

Strom also markets T-shirts that feature his grain bin paintings.

The opening reception for Strom’s exhibit, which he calls “D. Strom: The Search Never Ends,” will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, located on the lower level of the War Memorial Building (Nobles County Library), 407 12th St., Worthington. The exhibit continues through October. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-7245; or email noblearts@knology.net.

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers

can be reached at 376-7327.

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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 http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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