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Norwegian artist discovers America

RED WING - Norwegian artist Bodil Cappelin's first visit to the United States -- she's spending the month in Red Wing -- has provided her with a wealth of colorful images to capture in textiles and on canvas.

On one of her first tours of the community, Cappelin was struck by the fact that the people of Red Wing had planted so many trees -- and so close to their houses.

And at the Anderson Center at Tower View, where she is in residence during May, "I found some beautiful red tulips" which were planted as long as 30 years ago and have grown to huge "goose egg" proportions, compared with ordinary tulips.

Cappelin spent some of her first days at Tower View painting the tulips. Now, she told a group gathered at a Women's Network luncheon Wednesday in the St. James Hotel, "They are starting to fade. I will paint that, too -- the leaves falling off."

Her presentation was twofold. In addition to showing slides and talking about her art work, Cappelin also read a few poems by her late husband, Olav H. Hauge, a famous Norwegian poet whose works were translated into English by Minnesota writers Robert Bly and Robert Hedin.

When Bly and Hedin, who is the director of the Anderson Center artist community, did a reading of Hauge's works last winter, he mentioned to the audience that Hauge's widow would be coming to Red Wing in May. Women's Network organizer Marcy Doyle signed her up on the spot. Both Hauge and Cappelin are considered by many to be Norwegian national treasures.

Cappelin's work can be found in many galleries and museums in Norway. But it took her years to find her niche, she told the women's group.

As a child in school, she enjoyed art. Her mother thought perhaps the girl should go to school and study textiles.

"I wanted to paint," Cappelin said, so she didn't get along so well studying textiles. For a while she wrote poems and novels, but "That wasn't any good."

She was about 38 years old when a friend taught her a technique of weaving that she truly enjoyed. "I had to get going, really," she smiled. "A big loom makes it easier. A small loom is frustrating."

With a series of slides, Cappelin showed samples of her weaving as it evolved. An elephant wearing armor was inspired by a museum piece. A weaving of her grandmother leaving on a train trip includes her once-fashionable fox fur, and a cactus plant.

Cappelin frequently made social statements in her work, like one that depicts a businessman and his three well-dressed sons, with three daughters who "look like patterns" standing to the side -- and a very small girl ready to step into the picture. Another is her version of a protest against war.

Among the most striking was a large weaving she created based on a 1699 painting in a Norwegian folk museum of a farmer with his wives and 18 children.

As a painter, Cappelin said she wanted to illustrate stories she learned at school. These works, which are reminiscent of a child's drawings, include a series of biblical portraits ranging from Adam and Eve to Jonah and the whale.

This is Cappelin's first visit to an artist community. "It's wonderful," she said. She enjoys the lack of distractions and the inspiration of being around other artists.

"You get a creative energy when some people are working so hard on their own stuff," she said. "You get going on your own work."