Petersen re-creates images she loves in watercolor

WORTHINGTON -- When Mary Sobolik Petersen purchases a bouquet of summer flowers, she sees it as more than a way to brighten up her home. It is subject matter for her artwork."My daughter and I went to a farmers market , and they had such lovely b...

Mary Sobolik Petersen displays her sketchbook, flanked by paintings inspired by a trip to Costa Rica. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - When Mary Sobolik Petersen purchases a bouquet of summer flowers, she sees it as more than a way to brighten up her home. It is subject matter for her artwork.
“My daughter and I went to a farmers market , and they had such lovely bouquets for sale, so I brought one home and painted it,” said Petersen, pointing to a cheery floral watercolor waiting to be hung on the wall at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington.
Petersen, who lives in Luverne with husband Kenneth and teaches art in the Hills-Beaver Creek school district, is showing her most recent works throughout June at the art center. Watercolor has become her passion, and the exhibit features images from nature as well as other objects or tableaus that strike her fancy.
“The challenging thing about this show is putting together a fresh body of work,” admitted Petersen Thursday as she arranged her creations for the exhibit. “I’ve been teaching, so I was still working on these up until 9 o’clock this morning. … I have two more works that I’d like to finish and bring yet.”
Many of the paintings are renditions of florals - favorite subjects for Petersen. But there are also some other small series within the show.
Several paintings are depictions of maps, inlaid with souvenirs or mementos of favorite places.
“Those are much more personal paintings about places that are dear to me,” Petersen explained, picking up a painting with a map of Lake Superior. “I tend to navigate northward in the summer - my brother lives in Superior, Wis. It’s a place to refresh my soul, I guess, and to get back to nature for me.”
A second “map” shows her home area of Luverne-Hills. A key image, she explained, represents a small gallery that she ran for a short time, and an actual thread of yarn ties the elements together in the painting.
The show also includes a number of paintings that resulted from a trip to Costa Rica. 
“I went there last summer with a friend from high school,” Petersen explained. “It was actually a painting vacation. We took a workshop from an ex-patriot who moved to Costa Rica and still teaches watercolor. … She built a series of cabanas - cabins - so we could stay on her property. We spent five days there, then took another week to travel and sightsee.”
Petersen found much inspiration in the tropical landscape.
“The lush tropical rainforest plants and flowers were challenges, as were the iguana and Blue Morpho (butterfly),” she wrote in her artist’s statement for the show. “I need to return someday to see the elusive sloth. The light there was wonderful.”
Besides the paintings that will hang on the gallery’s walls, Petersen is including her sketchbooks in the show.
“I find it very relaxing, especially in the summer months when I travel, to use sketchbooks to record what I see and feel around me,” she explained. “I am still learning from other plein air painters how to become quicker at putting down what I see so you capture a moment in time.”
Although watercolor is traditionally done on specialized paper, Petersen is experimenting with other surfaces, such as board and canvas. The paint behaves differently, she noted, and she sometimes incorporates pen and ink work to get an effect similar to her sketchbook.
“Working on canvas or boards also allows me to put an archival spray on it rather than having to frame it behind glass,” she added. 
No matter the surface, watercolor allows her to add a dimension that she can’t achieve with other types of paint.
“I like the transparency of it,” she said, “and being able to glaze it and see the previous color you put down. It’s more forgiving than people say; it’s just all about the timing - knowing when you can add more color to layer it.”
An opening reception for Petersen’s exhibit will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building (Nobles County Library), 407 12th St., Worthington. The exhibit continues through June; hours are noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-8245.

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