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“That landscape got inside me. I’m still painting it — the light, the black dirt,” she said. “Nature doesn’t make bad color combinations.”
Hill said she found ways to be creative while she did her chores. She whittled shoes out of wood, replicated mud nests that barn swallows pasted under the eaves and sketched on available surfaces.
“We grew everything but coffee and Shredded Wheat,” she remembered. “There were cardboard dividers separating the Shredded Wheat biscuits. Those were mine, for drawing. I was the middle child, so I went after what was available.”
Hill said her middle-of-the-pack position among the seven siblings probably set her up to form the co-op.
“I work alone, but I love a pack,” she said.
On a recent Sunday, 26 artists shuffle into Hill’s studio and park themselves at drafting tables, in front of easels or in one of the armchairs that ring the platform where the model of the day, Lisa Pfeiffer, reclines. During the next three hours, they would draw Pfeiffer as she shifted from pose to pose.
As they work in watercolor, pencil or charcoal, several of the artists show the facility that comes with countless hours devoted to life drawing. A few bring more determination than skill.
The session is popular with professionals — art directors, teachers, illustrators — including portrait artist Barbara Porwit of St. Paul.
“When I work one-on-one with a subject, I have to direct them,” said Porwit. “I don’t have that responsibility here. I can lose myself. I get into that trance where I’m creatively productive and look up and three hours have passed.”
But family physicians, home remodelers and administrative assistants feel welcome, as well.
Dan Altmann of Minneapolis took up drawing when his multiple sclerosis forced him to give up his dental practice. The former marathon runner, who now uses a walker, said drawing has helped keep his hands agile and his mind active.
“If you get together with dentists, you talk about teeth,” he said. “Artists talk about politics, religion, their work. I learn so much by listening and watching.”
Hill isn’t likely to admit it, but co-op members maintain that she — rather than the music, the coffee or the bread — is the main attraction.
“Florence offers us encouragement and enthusiasm,” said John Fleming, a retired salesman from Richfield. “She reminds us that art is the process of doing, regardless of the results.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.