Column: An artful life — 50 years of making art and friendships and still going strong

Elaine Frederickson, of Stillwater, has been painting for more than 50 years. Here work is part of a June show at the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery. (Artwork by Elaine Frederickson)


There were three train depots in downtown Stillwater when Elaine Frederickson was a young woman. She would know — her first job out of high school as secretary for Simonet Furniture & Carpet Co. took her to all three delivering bills of lading.

Years later some of these same boxcars sitting idle in the vicinity of what is now the Freight House would be used to house a first-of-its-kind art exhibit. This would be the beginning of what is now known as the Stillwater Art Fair — and for Elaine, her first art show and the beginning of a career in art spanning more than 50 years.

Little did she know that what began as an attempt by herself as a young newlywed to “make something to put on her living room walls” would evolve into a lifetime passion, and she hasn’t stopped painting since.

Over the years Elaine juggled her art with her growing family. Talent and hard work paid off, and Elaine was soon doing three art fairs a year, selling her paintings to collectors, taking trips to Europe where she spent three weeks living in a 15th-century Italian monastery in Italy (twice), along with trips to England, Mexico and the Yucatan. Evidence of success lines the walls of her Lake McKusick studio — first-place ribbons, awards, letters of recognition. Her work has been picked up for commercial use and used on calendars, gift bags, Courage Cards, as well as the cover of Stillwater Visitor Magazine in 2001 and inside the 2016 and 2017 Discover Stillwater magazine.

Perhaps just as impressive as her talent is her wide network of friends. The solitary artist’s life was never for Elaine, and she has accumulated almost as many friends as she has made paintings by joining several organized painting groups. Her Bayfield, Wis., group has been in existence for more than 32 years. Every February 30-40 artists meet in the Bayfield area, where they stay for a week and work together on their art.

Then there’s her Amery, Wis., group, going for 30 years, which started at a primitive Girl Scouts camp and has evolved into a comfortable setup complete with hired cook and housekeeper. The most active group is the Thursday Painter’s group, which meets weekly at the Phipps in Hudson, Wis. Original members included Anita Buck, author of “Jo Lutz Rollins and The Stillwater Art Colony.” This group of a dozen or so painters meets indoors during the winter, but when the summer classes at the Phipps fill up with children, they pack up their gear and head outdoors and paint plein aire.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Elaine is still continually reinventing herself as an artist. The painting groups have given her a proving ground for new techniques, like the new “alcohol ink” she’s currently using, creating brightly colored abstracted landscape scenes that appeal to members of the younger generation who are currently buying homes and looking for something to put on their walls. And Elaine’s own living room walls that once beckoned? Let’s just say that the bare spots have all been filled and, oh, what a beautiful journey it has been filling them.

Elaine’s work is available year round at the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery, 402 N. Main. A special River Room exhibit entitled “Impressions of Nine Women and a Guy” featuring the works of the Thursday Painter’s Group opend June 1 and runs through June 28. Contact the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery for details at 651-689-0149.

Jane Dierberger is a local artist and art show organizer who owns Artistic Product Photography. She is a member of the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery and volunteers at ArtReach St. Croix and the Minnesota Museum of American Art.