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Ridgewater instructor exhibiting work at Minnesota West

Minnesota West students Wes Caster (left) and Danika Martins pause to admire the artwork of Marjorie Nilssen in the Fine Arts Building on the Worthington campus. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)1 / 2
Marjorie Nilssen’s art work is being shown at the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West, with a closing reception set for Feb. 26. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — For the last 26 years, Marjorie Nilssen has shared her love of art and personal work as an instructor at Ridgewater College in Willmar.

This month, she takes her artwork a bit farther afield with an exhibit at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus.

“Oil painting is my preferred medium,” explained Nilssen. “Oil painting is my love, and I’ve worked with that for several years. The last four years, I’ve been working with wax and oil — a mixture of wax and oil.”

The process is a bit difficult to explain, as every artist that combines those two elements does it differently, Nilssen noted, but for part of the process, she wields a torch on her canvas.

“If I could put it in a nutshell, I do a lot of melting and scraping to work various layers of oil paint into the wax,” she said. “One of the things that really attracted me was the texture, and it’s a sensuous material and very forgiving.

“I work from process. I don’t have a plan when I start, so I work very spontaneously with it and let things happen as they will. The paintings come from the process, but I control the process because I have the torch in my hand.”

Nilssen traces her love of art and creativity back to childhood, recalling “always being up to something — playing outdoors and making something from natural things, anything I could get my hands on.”

She began drawing in school and discovered an ability to copy things.

“I remember in fourth grade, I did a report on Renoir, and that really had an impact on me,” she said. “He was able to capture such beauty in his work. I was really smitten with the whole thing.” 

Eventually, Nilssen decided to turn her interest in art into a career, but heeded her mother’s insistence on doing it in a marketable fashion by also getting a degree in education.

“I followed my mother’s advice and picked up an education degree and also a degree in special education,” she said. “After I graduated, I always wanted to teach art, and that was in the back of my mind, but there were no jobs, so I was lucky enough to have another degree so that I could find a teaching job in special ed, which I did for 17 years — still working as an artist all those years and holding out for any art position that would open up.”

When a part-time position opened up at Ridgewater, Nilssen worked two jobs — special education during the day and art at night at the college.

“I always tell my students that if you’re persistent and work hard, you can achieve anything,” said Nilssen, crediting that philosophy to the example set by her mother. “But you have to work hard. Nothing comes on a silver platter. … I’m very persistent, thanks to my mother.”

For the last nine years, Nilssen has been employed as a full-time art instructor at Ridgewater, a position she relishes.

“I love teaching at the college,” she said. “It keeps me young, and every day is a new day, too — being with the young people, being with the older students. I love the whole thing. It fills me in a way and keeps me abreast of what I’m doing, and I share what I do in the studio with the students — my failures and successes.”

An avid traveler who often travels abroad by herself, Nilssen also loves to share those experiences with her students: “How wonderful it is to go places and see art firsthand. They need to go to New York City, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stand in front of the artworks for themselves. On the computer, it isn’t the same.”

Students at Minnesota West and area art appreciators now have the opportunity to see Nilssen’s work firsthand through the February exhibit, which consists of 15 oil-wax paintings created over the last couple of years.

“They’re not representations of nature — you’re not going to see landscapes or trees or people in my paintings — but I love being outdoors, so I get a lot of inspiration from the world, the natural world, as far as textures,” she described. “They’re about the form, color and texture. Sometimes that’s hard for a lot of people (to understand). They’ll look at my paintings and try to find a picture of something. You can’t control how people are going to see anything. Students will say, ‘I see a bird,’ or whatever. That’s the beauty of art is that we see different things, and it touches us in different ways.”

Nilssen’s paintings are located in the entry and hallway of the Fine Arts Building on the Minnesota West campus. On Feb. 26, she will be on hand to talk with art students, and there will be a closing reception for the exhibit from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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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