Inside the Artist's Studio: Alsgaard-Lien shares work at Minnesota West
RUSHMORE — For most of her professional life, Agnes “Bobbie” Alsgaard-Lien has maintained a separate studio space in a location outside her home. Because of some recent circumstances, however, she is currently producing art in a room on the upper floor of the house she shares in Rushmore with husband David Lien.
“It’s kind of weird to have a studio back in my home,” she admitted, gesturing at the tight working quarters. “I haven’t had it in my home for 25-plus years. And, as I get older, I love painting big, but what do you do with it all?”
Bobbie’s makeshift studio is everything one would expect of an artist’s haven: Paintings in various stages of completion, propped up against walls, the most current still on the easel; tubes of brightly-hued acrylic paints strewn across the center table; a plastic coffee can filled with brushes of every size and shape; shelving filled with other artistic implements. At the foot of the stairs leading to the studio, a painting is attached to the wall with duct tape so she can view it with a critical eye.
The atmosphere in the studio space is charged with an extra dose of creativity, as Bobbie prepares for an upcoming exhibit of her work at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus. Bobbie just started her second year of retirement from the college, where she was the art instructor for more than 25 years. Now, she’s excited to return and show off what she’s created in the interim.
“When I worked at the college, my family came first, Minnesota West came second, and my art came third,” she explained. “Now, my family comes first, my art comes second. I still love Minnesota West, and I’m honored that I got to teach there as long as I did, and the opportunities I had there were unbelievable.”
In keeping with that priority list, Bobbie’s retirement has been focused on her family. For the past seven years, she has been by David’s side as he has battled the effects of having hepatitis C, including a liver transplant and further experimental treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“He’s now hep-free — that’s another miracle,” said Bobbie, “but he can’t do a lot, and needs me to be at home. So here I can make art, still have that freedom. And it’s nice not having to spend our whole life at Mayo.”
During one of their stints in Rochester, Bobbie had the opportunity to share her creative abilities with people who were in similar situations.
“I did a watercolor workshop at the transplant house where we stayed,” she recalled. “It was for patients and caregivers, a chance to let yourself be free. It helped them forget for a moment, and they helped me forget for a moment.”
Bobbie has two daughters: Jennifer “Sky” Alsgaard, also an artist living in San Francisco, Calif., who has recently returned to school to study computers; and Brianna, a preschool teacher who lives in Rochester with husband Lucky and son Tayis, 4. In her young grandson, Bobbie has an enthusiastic partner in creating art.
Besides dedicating time to her family, Bobbie is also substitute teaching in grades K-12 in the Worthington and Brewster school districts.
“When I get a sub job, this is my sub bag,” she said, opening up a big shopping bag to show the contents. “You know what it’s filled with? Art supplies. I’m doing all (subjects), but one thing about art, it relates to so many other things. I take a lot of different jobs, and I like it. Oh, there are days when the kids are a little rowdy and I walk away feeling like they aren’t getting how important their education is.”
During those spare moments she’s not caring for her family or filling in for a teacher in an area classroom, Bobbie is preparing for the upcoming exhibit. Her latest series also has a family connection. The acrylic and mixed media works all feature military images — predominantly ships — reflective of a time much earlier in her life.
“My brothers were in the service,” she explained. “My one brother was in the Bay of Pigs on a ship. My other brother did two terms in the Navy in Vietnam and was a hero. The ship he was on was bombed, and he had everybody put their mattresses over the hole in the ship, and they made it safely into port. My other brother was in Guam loading airplanes with destructive materials. I was an art student at the time, and it was very confusing. We didn’t talk for 15 years. Now we’re all fine, except my one brother died of renal cancer.”
Bobbie recently had the opportunity to revisit a base where one of her brothers had been stationed in San Diego, and it brought all those confusing feelings back to the surface. The resulting artworks include striking images of gray ships, juxtaposed with bright orange buoys, and the same ship image and pictures of servicemen collaged into other works. Bobbie also employed a graphing technique and tried to create textures in the series. With time short before the opening, she was still putting the finishing touches on several canvasses.
“I have a million paintings I’ve started that aren’t done,” she said with a bit of exaggeration. “I’m never quite sure when they are done. Well, that’s not true. I do know when they are done.”
In addition to the ship series, Bobbie will also include a few other recent paintings in the show, as well as some retrospective works. Using a Legacy grant from Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council, she previously completed a “County Parks” series, for which she painted a canvas in each of the area’s rural parks.
“I’ve also got some birds, which are an offshoot of the parks series,” she noted, “and I’m always working on landscapes. They are kind of my tool.”
Bobbie plans to include at least one image from a much earlier series that focused on the accordion, an instrument upon which she took lessons for about three years as a young girl.
“I tore it apart more than I played it,” she recalled with a laugh.
All the work she has put into the exhibit — current and over the years — will culminate in the exhibit at the college.
“There’s no greater reward for an artist, other than being respected by your peers, than to see your show hanging and people looking at it, and for me, to see what my millions of hours have produced,” she said.
“Sometimes when I leave this studio, I feel like a genius. Then, when I come back in the morning, I look at it again, and I feel like a fool,” she added with a laugh. “You have to be your own worst critic. When you first start making art, you make art so you can get better at making art. Here it is, 40, 50 years later, and I’m still trying to get better at my craft.”
The exhibit of artwork by Agnes “Bobbie” Alsgaard-Lien will open with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus. The show will continue through October.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers
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