The NDSU Spectrum
November 7, 1989
by Penny Beeter
ND Artist Paints the Century
Anne-Marit Bergstrom from Devils Lake, ND, buries a century of the state in the serence, sometimes active scenes of her paintings.
On display through Dec 1 at the lower level art gallery in the SU Library, the paintings depict A Settler's Sage. Bergstrom takes people throught the arrival of the North Dakota settlers to their reactions toward advances such as the car.
The stories for the paintings come from both family lore and her experiences, Bergstrom says. She recalls the wintry schooldays of her childhood: "I remember trudging through the snow to school, the snowbanks just up to your waist."
Bergstrom also remembers mornings shivering in the car, hoping it would start. "Of course we had electricity, it's not that much long ago, but I go back far enough that I still had a feeling of the simplicity and the values that I feel were so important, the work ethic and the importance of the family, the family unity being central and working as a team."
Some of the early simplicity is gone, Bergstrom says. But "I think here in North Dakota, sometimes I think we have the last of the good life."
"I think people still value those things. You have to work harder to keep that; there's so many more distractions now, you have to have a more concentrated effort."
The settler series of paintings displays a general serenity of a past era that Bergstrom hopes to keep alive today throught her paintings. "I just feel that I don't want that era to be lost," she says.
"I mean I want to record it from the viewpoint of my experience and my family because the values were so fine in those days and there's so much that we can learn from those people.
"I hope that throught my artwork people will remember the good of the good old days and carry it with them."
Bergstrom has the advantage of hearing pioneer-day stories from both her mother, who is 86, and her father, 94. "I think it's such a marvelous time that we're living in right here in North Dakota where there are still people living who were here in the beginning and who are able to tell us what it was like."
But each painting contains imagination. "I have to imagine what it was like because those days are gone," Bergstrom says. The painting Light of the World shows how the imagination plays a part in the paintings, which are based on true stories.
Inspired by James Kaplan, associate professor of French at Moorhead State University, Light of the World shows a young man carrying a burning lantern in his hand, plodding through snow to a tiny church on a hill. The rising sun glows from behind the church swirling shades of pink across the snow. "It's the most splendid one in that exhibit; you notice it right away," Kaplan says.
The story came from an old woman who died this year, he explains. The woman told Kaplan about her father, who was a sexton for the Maple Sheyenne Lutheran Church. Since burned, the church was the first Swedish church in North Dakota.
The man would get up in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, walk to the church and light the pot-belly stove to warm the building for the rest of the congregation, Kaplan says.
"Dr. Kaplan asked me to do a painting of a sexton going to a church early on a Sunday morning," Bergstrom says. "When he described the situation it was an easy one for me to do because it fit in with the things I had been told about pioneer days."
"I visited the site (which is just out-side of Harwood, ND) so I could get a feel of the countryside. I have to go by photos for something like that when the building isn't in existence."
Except for one, all of the paintings in the settler series are oil paintings on canvas. As acrylic painting adorns the front of her book A Settler's Saga, Celebrating 100 Years of Dakota. Written by both Bergstrom and her daughter Mira, the book narrates the paintings in the series.
Bergstrom feels painting with oils gives her an advantage because she often changes her mind. "You can move the paint and you can also paint over. I mean you can add a little highlight in a certain spot or deepen a shadow," she says.
"But I'm prejudice toward oil painting. I feel its the difference between porcelain and plastic. I feel there's a luster, a realness, it's more genuine to me and the other is like synthetic."
The arts have been a part of Bergstrom's life since she was a young girl. Her mother was a concert pianist and Bergstrom a singer. "My mother was so interested i nthe arts. She said that since the time I could hold a pencil I would draw and I spent a lot of my leisure thime as a child drawing and painting and I think that it was a form of fantasy for me," Bergstrom says.
Studying music in college also helped Bergstrom develop her artistic talents. "You paint very much like the contrasts in compositions that a performer performs and so I do like to paint different styles and different subject matter, just as a musician likes to perform or experience the music of different periods and styles," she says.
"There's only so much time; you can't serve two matters," Bergstrom says and so she concentrates on her artwork.
"But I'm continually aware of the relationship between music and the fine arts. There's so much that's similar - you have the dynamics (in music) and in art you have the gradations of color. You have the louds and softs, you have the strong colors and soft colors. You begin by composing your painting just as you being with a composition in music."
Bergstrom sees a shift in the future. People are still pioneers, but their open plains are now skyward, she says. "My son (Renard) is in the Airforce and he's and F16 pilot. Knowing that my parents went in horse and buggy across the prairie and now my son is making contrails in the sky - what has happened in this century is so amazing.
"I try to portray that and bring an awareness to others through my artwork and hope that others feel the excitement of this era."