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Mainstreet Radio’s Catherine Winter talks with northern Minnesota painter Liz Sivertson about her work and what forms her creative inspiration. They preview and exhibition of paintings by Sivertson: colorful, whimsical pictures she did for the children's book “North Country Spring.”

Sivertson comes from an artistic family. Her sister owns the Sivertson Gallery, and her father, Howard Sivertson, is a well-known painter and illustrator who grew up on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The big lake features prominently in the family's life, and in the artists' work.


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CATHERINE WINTER: On a recent weekday, Liz Sivertson lined up her new paintings against the wall at the Sivertson Gallery in Canal Park in Duluth. The pictures tell a joyful story of spring-- bear cubs turn somersaults across a bright yellow canvas. A moose dances on gangly legs. Chubby ducklings stand in the rain. Sivertson says many of the scenes are inspired by animals she saw outside her tiny one room house near Grand Marais.

LIZ SIVERTSON: I know I've seen cub bears just tumbling around. So you watch these animals. And they become a part of you because they're so infectious with the way they move. Deer, of course, I see deer all the time. Trout are in my family history way back because my grandparents and my dad as a kid was commercial fishing family on Isle Royale. And so I liked how fish looked. I didn't see a bear and a butterfly. But I could put them together.



CATHERINE WINTER: I was wondering about your dad having-- I've seen some of his books. And his work is quite different from yours. It's much more realistic, where yours is much more fantastic. Is that a deliberate thing? Or is it just that that's you and that's him?

LIZ SIVERTSON: I think that's just him and me. I tried to paint like him, and it just wouldn't come out. And he is much more of a detailed storyteller and, I think, just having that desire to really communicate exactly what happened, especially in his books that are about specific parts of history. And I was just too lazy to figure out exactly how to make that boat and all the parts on the boat look so literal. But he's pretty generous, too. I think he would like to be a little bit looser. So we give each other a little bit of pats on the back for being our alter ego types.

CATHERINE WINTER: The woman who wrote the text for Sivertson's new book, Reeve Lindbergh, has a famous father, too-- Charles Lindbergh, the transatlantic aviator. Sivertson says she didn't have any trouble coming up with images that fit Lindbergh's poetry. But in some ways, working on a book was tough.

LIZ SIVERTSON: I had to draw the dummy before the actual paintings or the mock-up book. And after they approved those, then I had to stick with the whole plan. And that was really awkward for me at first, sticking with what I'd planned. I'm used to just swishing the paint around.

And so if I started out doing a night scene, and I get a really glowy color, and then I think, this is a great evening scene. Now it's-- my bear is turning into an elephant. Well, it'll be an elephant. But I had to stick with the duck if I started a duck.

CATHERINE WINTER: I have a dumb question, I think.


CATHERINE WINTER: With these over here, when I was looking at this picture, I looked at the deer's face. And I thought-- I mean, it's only a few lines. And yet somehow it evokes all the tentativeness of a deer. Why does it do that? How did you do that?

LIZ SIVERTSON: I don't know. That's the mystery of image making. You can't take credit for-- sometimes, have you ever thought of something that's really funny, it just came out of your mouth before you even heard it? And it's just a surprise. When I paint, I feel like something magical happens. I'm not responsible.

If you just think about what the animal feels like or moves like, a lot of times, that magic just happens so easily. Something works through you. But you're not really too much in charge. I think if you stay out of the way, it's probably a zen thing or something. If you get out of the way enough, then good things happen.

CATHERINE WINTER: Good things are happening with Liz Sivertson's art. She says she could make a living from selling her paintings if she didn't hope to put plumbing in her house someday. She supplements her income with a job as a glassblower.

In her spare time, she plays saxophone for the Expandable Waist band. Sivertson says, in a way, painting the pictures for North Country Spring was an act of hope. She painted most of them while Grand Marais was in the grip of winter and spring was just a distant promise. I'm Catherine Winter, Mainstreet Radio.


Digitization made possible by the State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 2008.

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