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'Journey' reflects Marian Anderson's personal rebirth

Student union painting "Journey" reflects artist's personal rebirth.

By Lenny Koupal, Centennial Student Union

For artist Marian Anderson, her latest painting, “Journey,” reflects a special bond with Minnesota State University, Mankato and her own personal and professional rebirth.

"'Journey' -- I love the title. I think it perfectly fi ts the painting in  every respect," she said.

"Journey" marks Anderson's first new painting in five years. Sitting in her peaceful, woodland home in rural Mankato, Anderson said she reached a plateau in her life following the death of her husband, Vince Meyer, to cancer in 2005. Looking back, she sees it as a period of artistic limbo.

"The last few years have been hard," she said. "I was pretty ho-hum. I was dying on the vine and I didn’t realize it."

Her personal journey of rebirth was sparked by two recent events. The first came when Rod Meyer of Meyer Financial and Consulting approached Anderson with the prospect of opening a Mankato gallery. The invite converted a portion of Meyer's Mankato office building into the Marian Anderson Art Gallery.

Collections and original art from Anderson's 55 years as a professional artist were moved from her rural Mankato studio to the new gallery near Adams Street and Victory Drive.

The second spark was a visit from Laurie Woodward, director of the Centennial Student Union; Shirley Piepho, director of university scheduling; and Sue Olson, CSU administrative assistant. At the time, the three were seeking a retirement gift for Mike Hodapp, CSU associate director, who retired in April after 41 years with the student union.

What started as another Marian Anderson print to complement the ones Hodapp already owned ended with Woodward asking Anderson to do a painting that reflected the growing heritage of Minnesota State Mankato.

What developed was a commissioned painting. The original is the fourth in a series of Mankato montage paintings by Anderson. Originally on display in the art gallery, "Journey" will be permanently displayed in the Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State Mankato.

The university also created 750 signed and numbered prints, 75 signed artist's proofs and 25 signed giclee prints. Sale of the prints will benefi t the university’s scholarship program. Sale information is available on the University's Alumni Association website at

Anderson admits she had to work herself up to this latest painting.

"At first, I wasn't keen on the idea," she said, "but then I got hooked."

What hooked her was her tour of the Minnesota State Mankato campus with David Cowan, university facilities services manager. Part of her artistic vision rose from enthusiasm
shared by alumni and the entire campus community.

"I couldn’t just look at a picture and paint it. I had to get a feeling about the campus. I had to experience it," Anderson said. "The one thing that really stood out was the pride. This came from students, from people who have gone to the university or have friends or family going here.”

Along with her tour, Anderson also worked with Daardi Sizemore, Minnesota State Mankato archives librarian, to gather historical data for the painting.

"I came away with the overwhelming desire to do this painting," she added. TThe initial sketch just came to me in a flash."

Anderson started the painting last fall and completed it in time for the May 13 unveiling at the grand opening of the Marian Anderson Art Gallery.

"Once I started, I was very focused," she said. TThere was never a time when I wished I hadn't agreed to do this."

Anderson said her vision was not about capturing a collection of campus buildings, but rather to bring pride and promise to the canvas. The resulting montage is literally a moving work of art – a journey – that carries the viewer through the fading past to the evolving future of Minnesota State Mankato. Colors and scenes also move the viewer from sunrise to twilight and through the changing seasons on campus.

"I set out to capture a mood, a feeling," she said. "I wanted to deliver the story of the journey – from the lower campus days to the Gage towers (set for demolition in 2012) – I wanted to reflect aspects of the university that are dwindling into the past as the journey continues. And I want the painting to deliver the promise of the future."

In selecting the scenes, Anderson said her central focus of the painting was the campus's Mall Fountain.

"The splashing fountain waters seemed to be the heartbeat of the campus as students lingered leisurely around it. Everything would evolve around it," she said.

Other key elements include the Taylor Center, which is often viewed as the gateway to the University.

Features of the montage reach back to the original 1868 Normal School building and span through the days of the lower campus, the Vietnam era and the Women's Basketball 2009 National Championship.

"I wanted to ignite people's thinking so they will bring out their memories on their own," Anderson said.

While the painting reflects name changes that mark the growing and changing mission of the university, it also prominently displays the iconic fl ame of knowledge that describes the journey. Another focal point shows three planes flying toward different points on the horizon.

Anderson said the replicas from the University’s aviation program symbolize the continuing journey as students graduate and fly off to find their futures.

"The planes represent the promise of tomorrow," she said. "Everything that has gone on here has given students the tools to journey out and shape their future."

Anderson said "Journey" has a special place in her heart. Not only is the painting a reflection of the university and her ongoing love for the Mankato region, it also represents the people and inspiration that fanned her artistic flame.

"This painting and the new gallery reignited me," Anderson said. "Rod and Laurie both saw me at this I-don't–care-what-happens stage. They were the two people that made me come alive."

Born in nearby Nicollet, Minn., Anderson describes herself as a "hard-working German" whose self-taught artistic skills emerged in her youth. By age 20, Anderson was a professional artist building a national reputation for her vivid wildlife and western art paintings.

Her montages of Mankato began after Greater Mankato Growth approached her to do a community painting that focused on the Mankato Depot.

The resulting "Partners In Progress" painting was followed by "Closing Time" and "Good Ole Summertime." After completing the Mankato paintings, Anderson did similar montages for North
Mankato, Nicollet, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Madelia and Chatfield.

With her re-sparked energy, Anderson she hopes "Journey" will be a rebirth of her own journey as a professional artist.

"I’m just a stick in the stream. I'll see where life takes me," she said. "I think if I died today, I'd have more than my share of life. I really would."

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