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Colleen Sheehy, NxNW, Published December 04 2013

Sheehy: Art retreat method of winter survival tried and true

Winter’s here! The season is often greeted with groans and trepidation, and there are trials to bear with the challenges of winter driving, wind chills and shoveling.

I find that I enjoy winter by making art the center of the season, and I prepare for the months as an art retreat. It means that I enjoy and anticipate this time rather than dread it. The focus on art makes it a time of enjoyment, reflection – and growth – in the way that nature secretly is at work during the winter. I think of it as an art hibernation.

Winter can be a creative time. The musicians who forged Minneapolis’ 1970s music scene – people like Chris Osgood of the Suicide Commandos and Paul Westerberg of The Replacements – claimed that the cold winters were the reason the music exploded from an unlikely, cold Midwestern town. Hunkered down in basements together, they had lots of time to hang out, write songs, practice and create.

To keep my creative juices flowing this winter, I made a list of the books I want to read. Snowy weekends are a beautiful backdrop for cozy tea-drinking, wrapped up in afghans on the couch with a book. This year, I’m reading several novels of Sena Jeter Naslund, the author of “Ahab’s Wife.”

Jeter Naslund visited Plains Art Museum and NDSU this fall and was such an inspiration. “Ahab’s Wife” had become one of my top favorite novels. I bought several of her other books at her book signings. I’m looking forward to savoring these new stories, including a historical novel about Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, a painter from 18th-century France.

I’m always reading about art, too, and winter is a good time for delving in deeply. An area of intense interest now is socially engaged art, a growing way that artists are working with people and not just alone in their studios. I’ll read Tom Finkelpearl’s “What We Made: Conversations about Art and Social Cooperation” and Shannon Jackson’s “Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics.” People in the community are talking about forming a reading group to discuss the ideas and questions together.

I’ll try to see as many Academy Award-nominated movies as I can so that I can cheer and boo and check in with my Oscar-obsessed sister and niece on awards night. “Downtown Abbey” starts up in January, and I must see what happens to Lady Mary, newly widowed. I also plan to watch all the films of British director Mike Leigh, having loved his “Happy-Go-Lucky” of several years ago.

I must have several intense live art experiences too – a good tragedy on stage, a rousing rock ‘n’ roll concert, a sublime symphony. And then the Fargo Film Festival in early March brings many new film gems to town.

Before I know it, spring will here, and I’ll be that much richer for having gone through winter. I recommend the art retreat method of winter survival.


NxNW is an occasional arts and culture column written by Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo