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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 24 2012

Transforming everyday objects into art

MOORETON, N.D. – Florence Trudell is an equal opportunity artist.

Put it in front of her, and she’ll paint it.

Rocks. Stools. Spoons. Shingles. Saws. Oil cans. Sleds. Turkey feathers.

If she can get it through the door, she’ll adorn it with designs ranging from goldfinches to farms to children or wolves. There’s a kennel full of dogs and cats painted on rocks inside and outside of her home.

Her first husband, Wahpeton barber Warren Pratt, urged her to paint after seeing her sketch.

At the time, the lifelong hairdresser was running a beauty shop in Wahpeton, so she wasn’t ready to own up to the pull of painting.

“I don’t have time for that foolishness!” she told him. But in 1987, she took ill, and spent her time watching art shows on TV.

“And so I said, ‘Well, maybe this is the time,’ ” she said.

She took lessons from a teacher in Jamestown. And she started the business side of her art by painting on rocks, she said.

A quarter century later, the strong-willed 70-something is still going strong.

She first sold her work in 1992 at Kirkpatrick Gallery in Jamestown’s Frontier Village. She now also sells at Red Door Art Gallery in Wahpeton.

Painted turkey feathers fetch $50 to $200. Painted rocks go for $4 for small pieces, up to $60 for a large stone.

“He couldn’t get me to stop after he got me started,” Trudell said of Pratt, who died in 1996.

“I just feel bad lots of times when I paint wildlife, because he always wanted me to paint wildlife,” she said. “And I said, ‘I’m not good enough to paint wildlife because men are too fussy.’ ”

A couple of years later, she married Eli Trudell, and they moved to Mooreton, where they were creating their own place to make and sell art.

He died 18 months later while they were on a trip.

“I then just decided to put my life in my art, and that’s what I do. Without that, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.

Her tiny studio has a big window to draw in morning light. She keeps a small gallery in her basement of items ready for sale.

Every wall of her home is filled with her art, covered with framed feathers, paintings or artifacts featuring her often whimsical folk art.

She says it irks her a bit when she hears of artists who don’t have their work in their homes.

“What the heck sort of artist is that?” she asks.

Painting isn’t just a hobby, but a job she loves. She starts her day about 9 a.m. and quits about 5 p.m. Detail work doesn’t bother her, either, she said.

“When I first decided to do spoons, I did 30 in one month,” she said. “When I get on a roll, nothing stops me.”

About three years ago, she started painting on turkey feathers.

“I started with the rocks. Then I found somebody that was doing feathers, and I thought I could do that. So I did. You can do anything you want to do, I guess, if you put your mind to it.

“If I wanted to be doing it, I’d be doing it. Life is too short,” Trudell added.

Plus, she jokes, “It keeps me off the streets.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583