Heart for art: Tricia Mikle named SMAHC's Prairie Disciple

Tricia Mikle retired a few years ago after a 27-year stint in the art department at Worthington High School, but she certainly isn't done teaching or sharing her passion for art.

Tricia Mikle

Tricia Mikle retired a few years ago after a 27-year stint in the art department at Worthington High School, but she certainly isn't done teaching or sharing her passion for art.

For instance, on a recent morning she was creating autonomous art with Ellen Baker-Merrigan and her two sons, Stewart, 12, and Sullivan, 10, at the Baker-Merrigan home. A former colleague at WHS, Ellen teaches biology but also enjoys exploring her artistic side.

"Stewart, I'm going to pick on you and have you explain what autonomous art is," Tricia directed.

"It's like, random," answered Stewart.

Tricia had a handout to more fully explain the concept: Autonomous art is achieved when you let your subconscious control your hand to paint or draw. It is a way to unlock where your dreams come from, and to think about what you're drawing is not autonomous art. Think automatic writing but used to create art. Look up the artist Joan Miro to see works done by an artist autonomously.


As they talked about autonomous art, Tricia, Ellen, Stewart and Sullivan made their own -- mixed media collages of tissue paper, Modge Podge, paint and whatever else they decided to throw in.

"These guys are so cool, because they're very reception to working in an abstract way, which a lot of kids won't consider," credited Tricia.

Such artistic collaborations are just what Tricia loves to do in her retirement, and they fuel her own creative juices.

"Then I go into the studio and get inspired and fired up," she explained. "I miss being around the students more than I thought I would, so this fills the need."

In her own work and when she is working with others, Tricia stresses that it's not about the end result, but the process of making art. It's that philosophy that recently earned her the 2012 Prairie Disciple Award from the Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council, acknowledging a person who has been instrumental in promoting the arts in the 18-county area of southwestern Minnesota. Tricia has worked closely with SMAHC and other area arts organizations ever since she moved to Worthington.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Tricia wasn't able to put down deep roots as her family moved around to many places in the eastern U.S., and she attended four different high schools. Her mother was an artist, and the seed that was planted eventually sprouted during a drawing class at the University of South Dakota, where she earned a bachelor's degree in painting. Initially, her jobs included secretarial work and design for two different newspapers and a magazine.

"At the Rapid City Journal, they handed us all a camera and a roll of film and told us to go out and shoot it," she recalled about her days designing advertising. "So we came back with the film, and they must have liked what I did, because I became a part-time photographer, too."

That career was short-lived, and Tricia returned to college to pursue a teaching degree. When she was hired at Worthington High School, Tricia knew she'd found her calling.


"As soon as I got in a classroom, I knew that was the place I was supposed to be," she said.

Many of her students have gone on to careers in art, but whether they had artistic ability or not, Tricia's main goal was to instill an appreciation.

"If we can make students love the arts, they don't have to excel, but if they can go to a gallery and appreciate the work hanging there, it's job done," she explained.

Tricia treasures letters and emails and letters from former students, such as this one from Lynel Honerman, who now lives in Boulder, Colo.: "You were a great teacher and huge influence on me in high school. Not only did you expose me on to surrealists like Dali and Seurat, but you started me down a path of appreciation for art history, which lead me to Toulouse Lautrec and eventually to poster art (of which I collect a lot of now)."

Encouragement throughout her artistic career has also come from colleagues such as Bobbie Alsgaard Lien, who recently retired as art instructor at Minnesota West and Community and Technical College and coincidentally was Tricia's college roommate, and her family.

"My family is a constant source of joy for me," wrote Tricia in her Prairie Disciple interview for SMAHC. "My husband Joel is very supportive of my endeavors, and we enjoy photography and traveling together. I have a son, Steffen, who is currently the art director at NBC Universal who specializes in 3-D computer animation. He is very creative and is our go-to guy for anything technical with computers and art. My daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is a vice president in marketing and communications for PPD Inc. and has a great sense of design and willingness to try new things. My daughter, Abby, and her husband live in St. Cloud. She works at the St. Cloud Hospital, and Pat works as a project manager/civil engineer at Minnesota Army National Guard. They have provided me with a grandson, Wyatt, who I love hanging out with. Talk about seeing life with a new perspective again."

While she may miss the student connections she forged as a teacher, Tricia has discovered lots of new perspectives to her artistic interests. Last summer, she and friend Kathy Kusz collaborated on an exhibit, "A Bird Conversation," and birds continue to be a theme in many of her works.

"Currently I am working with collage, and love the materials and flexibility that this medium provides," Tricia detailed. "I also like to work in acrylics and am open to whatever materials and techniques that come along."


Although caring for her mother has limited some of her activities, she also finds time for one-on-one art and mentoring sessions in various techniques and also currently serves as the president of the Nobles County Art Center Board of Directors. She's always been supportive of SMAHC's endeavors and was thrilled when she received notice of the Prairie Disciple designation.

"I had been on vacation, and when we got back home, I had sorted the mail with the bills on one side and the important stuff on the other side," Tricia related about the award notification. "A week later, I finally got around to the bills and picked up the SMAHC letter, thinking it was time for my annual donation. When I called (SMAHC), I said, 'I can't even express how pleased I am to receive this award, but I thought it was a bill,' and she said, 'That's not the first time it's happened.' It's a delightful way to open a piece of mail."

Tricia will actually receive her honor during the SMAHC annual celebration and fundraiser in late October. As she reflected on the award, Tricia reiterated the philosophy that she imparts to her students.

"I would emphasize that the process of creating is more important than the end product; to stay true to your ideas and instincts; to imagine; to explore; to continue to grow in the creative process."

Features editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 372-7327; email .

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