by Margo Ashmore
"I remember hearing stories of when the Mississippi was on fire," Linda Snouffer said. In the 1960s there were chemicals on the surface, "and all that water went south" to small towns that drew their drinking supply from the river.
Linda Snouffer and Deborah Foutch, both artists in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, will be part of a show at the Red Wing Art Center that illuminates the science of healthy water, soil and plant systems. It's sponsored by the Pepin Legacy Alliance which is concerned that Lake Pepin is disappearing as silt washes in from poorly managed land.
Roots Dancing Deborah Foutch "19" x 18"
We talked recently about their work and the voice that artists are giving to environmental concerns. Snouffer, working with the Nature Conservancy which has let her pick fresh grasses for print-making, said only a small percentage of the species diversity will be able to be replicated in the land that they're turning back to natural.
"Awareness is the place to take it," Foutch said, "and that's where artists have to step up, and do it in a way that's not dry. Then the subject is awake." They agreed that "the politics have demanded that we speak up. It had to go to the extreme, to get people [off their butts]. Artists challenge many things. It's one of the tools available."
I wondered if all artists make political and environmental statements? Are artists activists in other ways? Snouffer said she gets about 60 emails a day, 57 of which are re-
quests for action or money, she is interested in so many causes. Though Foutch has been a block club leader and is contemplating having a get-out-the-vote party at her house, she said the statements her art makes are how she's involved.
"There are the 'meeting' people and the telling the story people." Foutch currently is working on two bodies of work.
One is about soil and water. She is using layers of materials
and a combination of fiber, painting, and printing techniques to express the living world we stand on. She de-
scribed two reactions to this work, as confirming the work is effectively telling a story. When one of the first soil horizon pieces was hung at the state fair fine arts show she witnessed a discussion by a viewer of "living soil" and the fact that it needs to be conserved and protected. The other incident was having a soil science teacher look at one of her rooted pieces and say "I could teach with that. "Art that starts a conversation that
needs to happen, while showing beautiful and true systems, lets me carry on lessons from childhood. My father was a soil conservationist, he succeeded best with farmers when he engaged them with an entertaining story tied to facts. I get to carry that forward in my own way with my visual language." She has traveled and done shows, and had her work in far-flung galleries, finding that people from all over relate to the Mississippi River. Learning to talk about her art work and listen to the response can deepen or change a story.
|Grass Lake _Linda Snouffer
Her other current body of work about the building of the parks system in Minneapolis "Nature in the City" came from a conversation with a with some one who was related to one of the corps of people who achieved the park system. It led her to research the political struggle to accomplish our parks. Her work are fiber "views" from the parks of the city they inhabit. She hopes the work will start a conversation. The two artists looked at their work as examples of how artists evolve. Snouffer said when they met a few years ago, she "was more into process and now more into content" once she mastered those processes.
"What does this mean and what do I want it to mean?" Foutch spent years as a dollmaker, traveling and selling that work at
craft fairs. She describes that work as personal. In those years she was a mother of a young child running a business that traveled. There was a piece that depicted a mother among suitcases "taking a rest" and another pulling a canoe full of burdens, a message that perhaps some things should be let go. Much more introspective than her current work. "Art becomes another language of expression," says Foutch who currently mentors artists. When thinking about
those artists "a little more than half of artists I'm working with are stepping out into the world to express things [like environmental or social conscience]. The others, it's about
what's internal, or about shape and light. As skill level increases, you find your voice."