Scandia artist opens her home

Mary Jo Milbrandt in her studio, where she gives art classes. The studio has a slanted table under a large mirror so students can watch her paint.

The first thing a visitor notices at Mary Jo Milbrandt’s Countryside Arts Gallery is how good it feels to be there.

Is it because the white walls are covered with so many cheerful, colorful paintings?

Or is it Mary Jo herself who makes you so glad you came?

You can find out on Saturday, Oct. 13, when the Milbrandts host “Artists from the Countryside.” The show will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mary Jo’s work will be on display in her studio. And for this occasion she is also opening her house to show works by her friends who are fellow painters.

These local watercolor artists are Dee Dee Anderson of Forest Lake, Beverly Chandler and Eileen Nelson of Scandia, Gloria Osgood of Wyoming, Julie Vinar of Stillwater, Nancy Whitney of Chisago, Carol Young of Shoreview, and Raeann Palmer of Hudson, Wis.

In the Milbrandt home guests can enjoy wine and cheese, see the house, and buy original works of art.

Many artists keep the original and sell hundreds of machine-made copies. Not here. Every piece for sale is the original watercolor painting. Except for the printed notecards, buyers take home the paper with paint.

How she can part with them? Mary Jo said when she sells her originals, she reserves the right to make another painting of the same subject. Of course, no two paintings end up the same.

Another noteworthy feature of Mary Jo’s paintings is the expertly matched frames.

Imagine a well-dressed person, someone you can’t help noticing because your eye is repeatedly drawn to the whole outfit.

Examining the details, you realize the colors mesh perfectly and are repeated in the pants, the shirt, the scarf. And all the colors look good with the person’s hair and skin.

Each painting on Mary Jo’s studio walls is like that.

Red and gold flowers are set in a gold frame that complements the flowers.  A large landscape with peaceful colors has corresponding muted colors in the matting and frame, while next to it a small, boldly colored work has a slender black frame that matches the boldness perfectly.

Framing “presents the art,” said Mary Jo’s husband Ken, who does the matting and framing.

Mary Jo likes to paint a wide variety of subjects.  Look for chickens, singing nuns, farm scenes, an alpaca, fish, flowers, still lifes, a bridge, landscapes.

She often starts with a photograph, but as she tells her students, “we’re not out to make another photo.”

Instead of copying a photograph, she recreates on watercolor paper her first impression of it.

When a group of painters start with the same photo, she said, they get all different results. “Everyone has her own signature,” she explained.  “We all paint our own stamp on it.”

For the alpaca, she used two photographs that helped her capture the neck, chin line, and stance recreated in her painting.  The alpaca in the photos, however, has a flat-top hair style.  On the painted alpaca, light plays in the animal’s furry top. It’s the same animal, but a different impression.

Countryside Arts is located at 15560 Scandia Trail N. in Scandia, 9.7 miles east of Forest Lake High School, on the north side of the road.

The house is a brick structure built by Charles Ekdahl, a Swedish immigrant who bought land in Scandia in 1854.  He was a farmer, store owner, postmaster, charter member of the local church, and part owner of the Scandia creamery.  The bricks for the house were made in Scandia.

On a picturesque 10-acre farm on Scandia Trail (TH-97), Countryside Arts Gallery offers classes, private lessons, and artist workshops. The house and studio will be open on Saturday, Oct. 13, to show works by nine local watercolor artists.