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John Lamb, Published September 10 2012

Artist Kay Ornberg closing downtown Art Connection

FARGO - This Thursday will be the last Corks & Canvas event of the year. As the summertime art and wine walk comes to an end, so does one of the participating galleries.

Art Connection at 520 Broadway closes its doors by the end of the month.

After six years co-managing the space, Kay Ornberg says it’s time to step away from a store and get back to the studio.

The lease on the space expires at the end of the month, and she thought long and hard over whether to renew the contract or close up shop before making the decision.

“There were too many things taking all of my time and I wasn’t getting enough time to paint,” she says.

Prolific in all of her artistic endeavors, Ornberg says she has only been able to create two paintings this year.

Art Connection, however, is packed with her work. Watercolors are stacked on one another on the walls and display areas, or even laying on the floor, propped against the wall. One bin holds 30 matted watercolors and older woodcuts. Her hand-made clothing hangs on racks or off the edges of exhibition fixtures and half-walls.

The space also includes work by glass artist Jon Offutt, painter Mackenzie Kouba and the late ceramicist Bob Kurkowski.

Ornberg’s Art Connection shares the two-front space with Reed & Taylor Antiques. That business will move at the end of the month to a spot in the old Dakota Business College on Main Avenue near Eighth Street in Fargo, said owner Donna Ormiston. Offutt will exhibit at that new space.

Whatever Ornberg doesn’t sell, she’ll move back to her rural home near Rollag, Minn. Her photos, prints and paintings range from 20 percent to 50 percent off, her clothing is from 50 percent to 75 percent off. Similarly work by the other artists is discounted.

Art patrons can still see her works even after she moves. Her Rollag studio, converted from an old granary, will be a featured stop on the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists’ Studio Crawl Oct. 6 and 7.

“It was a terribly hard decision,” she says of the decision to close. “Each artist likes to see their works on display.”

She also liked displaying her pieces with those of other artists. In particular she points to Kouba’s work.

“She’s in her 20s and very intense,” Ornberg says. “I don’t know if Mackenzie has learned as much from me as I have from her.”

For her part the 27-year-old Kouba said she liked displaying at Art Connection after neighboring Upfront Gallery closed.

“I liked being in the space and interacting with other artists at different points in our lives,” Kouba says.

“We both got quite a bit from each other.”

The last in line

When she opened Art Connection six years ago, she joined three other gallery spaces all next door to each other on the 500 block of Broadway.

When she closes later this month, she’ll be the last to go. Upfront Gallery closed two years ago at about the same time Gallery 514 moved three blocks south to 214 Broadway and became ecce art + yoga. Last summer Funky Junque closed shop.

Mark Weiler, owner of ecce says the move to the other side of the railroad tracks was a good one.

“Walking traffic has increased for me 10-fold,” he says.

He even sees a big bump in those that don’t necessarily stop in, but may browse while passing by.

“The window exposure alone is dramatically increased,” he says, crediting his position between downtown’s swanky hangouts Monte’s and the Hotel Donaldson.

The current space he’s in, formerly occupied by Hurley’s Religious Goods, is much bigger and offers more room to display art, he says.

A life in art

Art Connection wasn’t Ornberg’s first stab at selling her art on Broadway – she had a booth in the first Downtown Street Fair 37 years ago.

Raised just a few blocks north near where Shanley High School was at the time, she recalls taking art classes as a pre-schooler. In junior high she chose art classes over home economics because her mother already taught her to sew.

At Concordia College she studied under painters Betty Strand and Cy Running, graduating with an art and education degree.

She kept making art even after starting a family. One of the reasons she started watercolors was because she thought it would be safer with her two small girls – now 45 and 50 – in the house.

The medium stuck and in the mid-1980s she won first place in a National Watercolor Society show

In the 1990s she started attending studio art classes at Minnesota State University Moorhead so she could work from models. Many of the nude watercolors from that period are available at Art Connection.

Lately she’s moved on to shooting pictures, inspired by the “gorgeous” land around her in Rollag.

“I’m not a photographer. I’m an artist with a camera,” she says, explaining that she likes the immediacy of photography.

While she’s looking forward to getting back to painting and making art of all sorts, she’s also waiting for some time with her husband and handyman Paul.

“He worked so hard to help me and he needs a break,” she says. “Maybe we can do more things together and less work.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533