Cokato native uses art to remember and share Cokato’s past
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN -Cokato native Lavona Keskey recently captured the spirit of Christmas in Cokato, as she remembers it as a child, in a painting she calls, “Remembering a Cokato Christmas.”
Keskey has been drawing and painting for as long as she can remember. She even jokes that she painted her way through high school.
Keskey, who now lives in Plymouth, is partially retired, but still works at the Wuollet Bakery (owned by Doug Wuollet from Cokato), which keeps her fairly busy, she said.
When Keskey isn’t baking or decorating cakes, she is likely working on her next art project.
One day, Keskey and John Koivukangas, also formerly of Cokato, were reminiscing about their childhood town and the days gone by.
Keskey decided to capture those memories and the way Cokato used to be before she forgot it.
For her painting, “Remembering a Cokato Christmas,” Keskey borrowed pictures from the museum in downtown Cokato, since many of the things she remembers as a child are no longer in town, such as the water tower.
The painting, which is set in the 1950s, captures the bakery, which used to be a bus stop (notice those waiting with luggage).
The truck in the painting belongs to her brother, Roger, who fit with the time of the painting, Keskey explained.
In the back of the truck is cream cans from the creamery as well as the Christmas tree.
“We always had the cheapest one on the lot,” Keskey said.
Santa Claus can be seen at the town hall, and down the road is the former gas station.
Keskey painted her mother, Mamie, in a red coat walking across the street, as well as herself (in the corner by her signature) in a purple coat carrying her ice skates.
“We used to walk across town to the skating rink,” Keskey commented.
She had so much fun painting Cokato’s past.
“It was like playing paper dolls all over again,” Keskey said.
“Remembering a Cokato Christmas,” both the print and postcards, can be purchased at Chuck’s Floral.
This isn’t the only local painting Keskey has done. She has also painted Lee School, and local farms such as the Morris, Keskey, Kotila, and Raisanen farms.
Several years ago, Keskey was asked to paint cards to be sold as donations for the Courage Center, a Minnapolis-based rehabilitation center for children and adults with disabilities.
Keskey’s cards are one of the top sellers.
The card being sold for this year’s edition of Courage Cards is “Winter Fun,” with skaters skating under a bridge with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.
For next year’s cards, Keskey was asked to paint the Rockefeller Center in New York.
Not knowing how or when she would ever get to New York, Keskey talked to her neighbor, who happens to be a flight attendant.
Keskey’s neighbor then flew the two of them to New York so that Keskey could get a picture of Rockefeller Center and feel the movement of the city.
Keskey spent five hours in New York Nov. 12 and though the famous Rockefeller tree wasn’t up yet (she would paint that in), there were ice skaters.
“It’s pretty fascinating,” Keskey said about the big city.
“It’s easier to paint what you know you get excited about what you’re painting,” Keskey said. This is also what sells. “Buyers can see that,” she said.
Keskey’s niece, Trisha Wuollet, has been helping by setting up a web site, www.lavonakeskey.com.
Wuollet said that Keskey adds a lot of personality and movement in her paintings. She is also impressed with Keskey’s personalized sculptures.
“She has a very unique ability to capture an image . . . and put life into a character,” Wuollet said.