The Grand Marais Art Colony Celebrates 75th Anniversary

By Ayano Hodouchi Dempsey

The oldest of its kind in Minnesota, the Grand Marais Art Colony has been attracting artists and students from the region and beyond since 1947. Founder Birney Quick, a faculty member of the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) started a summer program for outdoor painting in Grand Marais 75 years ago. 

One of the things our founder loved about being up here was the geography of the place,” explains executive director Lyla Brown. “The trees, the lake, the bedrock—and also the distance from people, and reconnecting with nature.”

Over the decades, artists have converged in a former Catholic church, two blocks away from Highway 61, to exchange ideas, techniques, and skills, and to learn from each other. Brown says artists and students always comment about the natural beauty of the area, and how amazing it is to explore the region and come back to the studio to create something in a supportive atmosphere. 


The Art Colony offers a wide range of classes throughout the year for youths, beginner adults, and intermediate artists. There are also studio sessions for advanced artists, where you share a studio with other artists. Most classes sell out quickly, attracting not only locals, but students from all over Minnesota and, pre-COVID, even Thunder Bay. 


In recent years, space became a limiting factor for the Art Colony, which Brown says was operating at 130% capacity. “Our oldest building, a former church, which we call Founders Hall, is a beautiful studio. It’s also a beautiful exhibition space. But you can’t have both things going on at the same time.” 


The organization was looking for a space in town when two buildings on the highway came up for sale a few blocks away. The acquisition of those properties increased the Art Colony’s space by 60%. One, named the Pill Box because it used to be a pharmacy, is used for classes. The other, Studio 21, was renovated into a gallery store and a new print studio that is twice as large as the old one. “The new studio has 190 square feet of wall space,” Brown says. “So you can put up a huge number of prints.”

The executive director says the Art Colony is at a pivotal point, trying to reposition itself as “not just a Minnesota organization.” “We look out and we can see Lake Superior. We think about all the other arts organizations and artists who work in the Great Lakes region and how the Art Colony can serve as a point of connection,” she says. 


With that in mind, the Art Colony invited seven artists from all around the region to exhibit five works each for the 7-5 exhibition, running from June 10 through August 28. The seven artists (Magdolene Dykstra, Danny Saathoff, Anthony Ingrisano, Mary Brodbeck, Jonathan Herrera Soto, Mika Laidlaw, and Leslie Smith III) also represent the seven different mediums (drawing, sculpture, painting, printmaking, print, ceramics, and mixed media) the Art Colony has classes in.

There will also be a historical timeline of the Art Colony displayed at Founders Hall, at 120 West 3rd Avenue. 


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