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Jean: The Inspiration Behind the Birkenstein Arts Movement 


Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 18, 5 - 8 PM

On View: September 17 - December 3, 2019

George Morrison Gallery

Jean – as she was called by all who knew her, including her children – was an artist, a teacher and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in 1950’s and 1960’s Chicago. Her home served as a safe house and community center for rival gangs, where members were free to express themselves through art, drawing and painting in the Birkenstein household. Her own work emphasizes her belief that everything – human, animal or mineral – has its inherent dignity. Painting, drawing and printing on whatever materials were available to her, newspapers, mailers and reworked canvases, Jean created images of her everyday life: their family pet ocelot, interracial couples, and gang members. Her media in the upcoming exhibit include oil, watercolors, lithographs, mixed media and prints. Her subject matter represents her eclectic interests, ranging from views of the Chicago El to cats eyeing fish on a table to colliding galaxies. Her work reflects both her insatiable need to share knowledge as well as her own lifelong thirst for learning.

Along with her artwork, the tactics employed by Jean and her movement colleagues are part of a year-long DAI program for middle school students, the Birkenstein Arts Movement. Its goal is to communicate and teach, as Jean dedicated her life to doing, that positive social change can be achieved by anyone at any age, manifested through knowledge and expressed through art.

Interesting in more information? Listen to an interview with the artist's son here.

Image Credit: Jean Birkenstein, Lord & Corba, 1961

Minnesota Black Fine Art Show 


Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 18, 5 - 8pm

Artist Talk 5:30pm

On View: September 17, 2019 - January 2, 2020

John Steffl Gallery

Established and emerging Minnesota artists of African descent exhibit their work in this juried traveling show. Appearing at Austin Area Arts, Mankato’s Emy Frentz Arts Gallery, St. Cloud’s Paramount Center of the Arts, and Obsidian Arts in Minneapolis, The Minnesota Black Fine Art Show culminates at The Duluth Art Institute. Work on view includes fiber, mixed media, photography, graphic design and painting. Congratulations to selected artists:

Kprecia Ambers, Minneapolis; kpinspires.com
Eyenga Bokamba, Minneapolis; eyengabokambapaintings.com
Christopher E. Harrison, Twin Cities; harrisonartstudio.net
Carla Hamilton, Duluth
Bill Jeter, Minneapolis; homewoodstudios.com/artists/jeter.html
Antwon Key, Mankato; antwonkey.com
Terresa Moses, Duluth; terresahardaway.com
Theoneste Munyemana, Minneapolis
Ivy Vainio, Duluth
Carl Wesley, Minneapolis

Image Credit: Ivy Vaino, Breaking Free I, digital photograph, 2018

Claudia Faith: Family


Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 18, 5 - 8 PM

On View: September - October, 2019

Corridor Gallery

Claudia Faith’s richly colored anthropomorphic paintings focus on a magnified perspective of the familiar.  Painting intimate portraits of her neighboring sheep, cows and chickens, Faith invites viewers to visit with her friends at close range. Looking intimately at her work, one can gain insight into Faith’s methods and relationships to the materials as well as her subjects.

Growing up on the Iron Range in the 1950’s, Faith notes that her paintings reflect a bittersweet childhood. Her work resonates with emotion; she finds serenity and sympathy in the bulkiness of a resting cow, the ugliness of a sheared ewe, in the eyes of a caged animal. She began painting full time in 2004, after retiring from the business world and pulling a sense of composition, balance and perseverance from her training as a professional musician and composer. Currently, her work focuses on calling attention to peace and world sustainability.

Image Credit: Claudia Faith, Homies

Kathy McTavish

On View: July - September, 2019

Mayor's Reception Room

The confluence of Kathy McTavish’s mathematical, ecological and musical background results in layered, multi-sensory experiences. Exhibited in both City Hall spaces, McTavish’s still images and quilts depict coded patterns and color blocking generated from a collaboration between the human hand and machines. McTavish acts as a translator of this language, asking what would artificial intelligence communication look like if humans could see this web of thought? The industrial sewing machine, for example, has preferences of movement, motions it comes to expect, such as threading left to right, scrolling top to bottom. As McTavish began moving with the machine, holding the fabric, rotating quilts to sew in different directions, she recognized the growing collaboration between maker and machine.

Prototypes on view in the City Hall’s Rotunda follow this development by exhibiting still images and patterns from McTavish’s work leading up to her next exhibition, Swarm, opening at the Rochester Art Center this fall. Vibrant, contrasting shapes appear color blocked into place, jet inked onto printer paper, leaving a trace of the machine used to generate the images. Viewers can follow stitches coded by McTavish into the industrial machine that are destined to be sewn on fabrics.

Kathy McTavish’s quilts on view in the City Hall Mayor’s Reception Room merge traditional women’s work with computer programmed designs. Her process involves coding industrial sewing machines that then generate designs of repetition but are programmed to allow random omissions. The result leads to imperfect circles, lines and patterns and encourages the artist to examine friction between machine work and the human hand. Breakdowns of repeat patterns becomes the language of thread much like human language with cadence and structure while lacking duplication of speech. McTavish likens the long arm industrial sewing machine to a living creature explaining that collaborating with one “is like swimming with a wild energy to do finesse work: thread pierces the fabric, creating tension while building delicate patterns”. 

McTavish was recently awarded the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship and exhibits throughout the Midwest, including her upcoming show, Swarm opening at the Rochester Art Center this fall. An exhibit of new work appears at the Joseph Nease Gallery in November. McTavish has been inspired by artists including Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin and Essma Imady. Her work will be on view at Duluth City Hall through September.

Image Credit: Kathy McTavish

Our Neighbors: Exhibiting Artists from CHOICE, unlimited

On View: October - December, 2019

City Hall Rotunda

CHOICE, unlimited serves adults with developmental disabilities, opening doors to employment and opportunity to people in our community. Their programming includes a studio class in visual arts and we are excited to showcase a selection of their work in our ongoing partnership with the City of Duluth.  Participants experiment with a variety of mediums and styles to explore their talents and develop individual expression. Techniques like soft pastel, collage and watercolor reveal studies in organic shapes, typography, and color composition. The weekly classes empower artist to make informed choices in their creative work by bringing awareness to personal values, identifying emotions and generating symbolism.

We invite you to connect with one another, allowing art to be the medium of a shared experience with those that share our community.



  The Duluth Art Institute's programs and services are made possible in part through the support of the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2018.

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