Sept. 25, 2006

Winsted artist featured at Arboretum, going to France

Watercolors by Charlotte Laxen “A Journey in Plein-Air Painting” on exhibit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Sept. 27 – Jan. 7.

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Charlotte Laxen, Winsted, is a watercolor artist who has been painting for 30 years.

Her works are well-known and hang in public and private collections in the United States, Australia, and France.

Her current exhibit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, is called “A Journey in Plein-Air Painting.”

Plein-Air is French for “in the outdoors,” and these works are very different from her previous artwork.

Laxen calls it a journey because she is working toward her personal and career goals; mainly, to be comfortable working outdoors in preparation for a teaching assignment in Giverny, France in August 2007.

Laxen admits to being very afraid, almost her entire life, of not measuring up to the situations that have been put in front of her because of her artistic abilities. Every level she has achieved, she has worked her way through with the help of family and friends who have been there to support her.

The opportunity to paint outdoors, away from the comfort of her in-home studio, has had a great influence on her work.

She had been used to working from photographs as support, and she said, “It is not to say that I will not use those on occasion.” But working outdoors means that a painting of the same area might look different from day-to-day, depending on the day’s circumstances, weather, and even bugs.

“It can’t be as detailed because the light changes so fast. You see differently. I think my work is more lightfilled and atmospheric than it was before. It really captures the emotion that is there. It was how I saw it at just that time,” Laxen said.

She started at the Arboretum May 10, 2005. “It took me six months to stop being terrified. You know what you are known for, and all of a sudden, you are way out of your comfort zone,” Laxen said.

Laxen will not only show her completed artwork, but there will be sketches, too. The exhibit displays where she started, and how she developed through the stages as well as studio work since that time.

“Part of this exhibit is the journey along the way. If someone can go up to my painting and say, ‘I can do that,’ then I have succeeded. I want people to see how simple it can be. It is a lot more about the process than the end result,” Laxen said.

While trying to teach others to be a lot less critical, Laxen, too, has learned to accept her daily limitations.

“One of the most important things I have learned from working at the Arboretum is that just the simple recording of what I did that day is good enough, in itself. Keeping it simple is the hardest thing to do,” Laxen said of herself.

Working at the Arboretum has also given her the background of painting in a large garden to prepare her for the next step in her journey – to teach watercolors at Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, France Aug. 18-25, 2007.

In someways, Laxen still cannot believe that she has received this opportunity. She feels that every time she gets really comfortable about where she is at in her career, she gets bored, and then God pushes her out there, moving toward a whole other level as an artist, Laxen shared.

“I can still be nervous about everything, but I am taking it one day at a time. I just do it afraid,” Laxen said.

Charlotte Laxen history

Laxen grew up on a 200-acre farm in southern Minnesota, in between Eaton and Wells. She was the seventh of eight children.

Her earliest recollections of artwork came as a young child, when she was given brown wrappers that came on her parents’ drycleaning and she would draw with her younger brother.

When she was in second grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Eaton, students were paired up to capture each other’s portraits and her’s looked a good deal like the person she was supposed to have drawn. The teacher was amazed.

For high school, Laxen went to public school at Wells, where they had a really good art program. At that time, you could only choose one of three classes: home-ec – which she already had a lot of experience in, already learning all of the basics from her mom; industrial arts – she would have probably been able to teach the class since she had access to her father’s tools since she was very young; or art, where she felt she had really good art teachers. “They made me work hard and I started to get a little recognition.”

In her entire time at high school, she only did one watercolor. She just did not know how to deal with it and decided that she really did not like it very much.

After her high school graduation, she decided to attend St. Cloud State University where she majored in art education.

Before her classes even started, in her freshman year, she met her future husband, Jim.

Her sophomore year of college was the first opportunity she had to really see what could be done in watercolor watching her instructor paint on location in Munsinger-Clemens gardens.

“For our final grade, we had to turn in the painting that we thought we learned the most on and I remember turning one in that I did not consider my best because I was afraid we weren’t going to get them back. I got a “C” in class, but at that point, I knew I loved watercolor,” Laxen said.

She graduated in 1972, with a major in art education, married Jim, and moved to Winsted.

Her first teaching job was subbing for kindergarten at the Winsted Elementary public school for a couple of weeks. She got to know the staff, and was asked to try an art class one day a week. They had not had an art program at the school before that time.

Laxen had a number of different jobs over the years, but has taught art to both elementary and high school students for a total of 13 years.

The biggest impact to Laxen’s art began in 1991, with her first trip to France. It was after they had hosted a French foreign exchange student for a month, and she had taken French classes at the Alliance Fransaise in St. Paul for about six months, that she made the trip to France.

She was going with three other women whom she hardly knew, and only one who spoke French well. “And she ended up not going, and so it was really an adventure.”

When Laxen returned from France, she had many photographs that she had taken, but had not intended to paint any of them.

Because she had wanted to share what she had seen, one day she attempted to do a watercolor of a French market. When she shared it with an artist friend, she wanted to buy it. Laxen had found the subject matter that gave her the passion she felt that she had been lacking up to this point in her artistic career.

She was asked to do a show with another French tapestry artist where she sold a number of paintings. “I started to do small scenes 6-inch- by-6-inch paintings of things that I had seen in France, and that just poured out of me,” Laxen said.

About 10 years ago, on a 25th anniversary trip with her husband to Lanesboro, she found another area that she loves to paint. The southeast part of Minnesota, with the Root River valley, and biking trails reminded her of parts of Provence in France.

She has devoted months of her time to capture this area in watercolor, and her watercolors are shown at the Cornucopia Art Center in Lanesboro.

Where does her artistic career “journey” go from here? She compares the experience to learning French. “I thought I could learn it in one year. Then – maybe in a lifetime.”

Charlotte and Jim, who does all of her framing, have two children, Emily and Jeremy, and are the grandparents of three.

Together, the couple owns the Oak Tree Gallery, where they also do custom framing. Laxen’s paintings are available online. Her web site is www.charlottelaxen.com.

The Arboretum through the seasons

Watercolors by Charlotte Laxen, Sept. 27–Jan. 7

For the past 15 months, watercolor artist Charlotte Laxen has been painting on location at the Arboretum. Come see the results.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, 2-4 p.m. meet Charlotte and learn more about her methods and vision.

On Friday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 14, Charlotte will conduct a plein-air (French for in the outdoors) waterclolor painting workshop; for all skill levels. Charlotte’s exhibit is presented through a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council with funds appropriated by McKnight Foundation.

Saturday, Nov. 18, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Refine your plein-air sketches, enhance your skills and gain a new perspective on your own artistic journey.

Sunday, Dec. 2, 1-3 p.m. - Painting demonstration.

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