Mary Welke will be showing several of her mixed media paintings in her “Field and Farmland” exhibition inspired by farming and prairie burns. (Photo courtesy of Mary Welke)
Mary Welke used mixed media for her exhibition in the Owatonna Arts Center this month. Utilizing organic matter from nature, she tells the story of rebirth. (Photo courtesy of Silvan Durben)

Mary Welke will be showing several of her mixed media paintings in her “Field and Farmland” exhibition inspired by farming and prairie burns. (Photo courtesy of Mary Welke)
Landscape Artist Mary Welke grew up in Minneapolis near the Mississippi River. She spent many days helping in her grandmother’s garden tending to vegetables and flowers which is where she learned and fostered her love and appreciation for nature.
It is that love that will soon be on display at the Owatonna Arts Center.

Following her graduation from high school, Welke went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and then earned a Master’s degree from the Pratt Institute in New York City.
After learning about prairie burns and how burning the lands to allow for new and better regrowth, Welke was inspired to take that concept to her art and applied for the 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant.
“They liked the idea and the concept with me using a mixed media approach instead of the traditional methods I used in my work,” Welke said. “I really wanted to use more experimental techniques for this series. I learned to use a torch for the first time and I have some collage pieces using burlap and other rough fabrics.”
Artistic Director of the Owatonna Arts Center Silvan Durben said there is a unique and tranquil quality to Welke’s work, which will be on display throughout later this week and into November.
“It’s so interesting to look at because some of the pieces have several different textures,” Durben said. “And you really get a feel for the message she is trying to convey. It’s like the story of the Phoenix, and now new life rises from the ashes.”
Throughout her journey on creating her work for “Field and Farmland,” Welke made an interesting discovery while collecting different flowers and grasses and making them into paper with the idea to collage them.
“I realized while the paper was wet you could see the petals and different colors, and when it dried it was crispy and turned brown,” Welke said. “I realized there was something beautiful in them and I couldn’t use them for a collage. It was interesting they had a certain integrity and beauty of their own when they’re left like they are.”
Welke spoke with several area farmers to learn the intricacies of the soil and the life cycle of plants and why prairie burns were necessary.
Mary Welke used mixed media for her exhibition in the Owatonna Arts Center this month. Utilizing organic matter from nature, she tells the story of rebirth. (Photo courtesy of Silvan Durben)
“Something I’ll never forget is when I was speaking to a farmer and he was holding some soil in his hands and he was explaining it all to me and I told him I’m not qualified to talk about this subject,” Welke said. “And he told me farmers talk to farmers and me being an artist allowed the conversation the extend to a new audience and spread awareness and the messages that might not otherwise be heard by those outside of the farming community and that is really special to me.”
She said she hopes those who go to see her show will take something away with them and inspire them to have conversations on the topics she explores through her paintings.
Reach Reporter Emily Kahnke at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.
Mary Welke’s “Field and Farmland” painting exhibition will be on display in the main gallery of the Owatonna Arts Center until Nov. 13.
Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Data included is taken from the Minnesota Department of Health Daily reports. Because all data is preliminary, the change in number of cumulative positive cases and deaths from one day to the next may not equal the newly reported cases or deaths.
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