Bonnie Dyer Featherstone is not a tortured artist.
"You're supposed to cry and supposed to drink," she said. "I'm one of the happiest people I know."
Her license plate even reads "I happy."
And at the moment, she has extra reason to be: She recently won "Best of Show" in Burnsville's 29th annual art fete for her work entitled "Prairie III -- Early Winter Erosion Series." The art fete is showcasing more than 70 artists in an exhibit at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center through April 16.
The Burnsville resident meant for the Prairie III series to serve as demos for her students at Savage Art Studios. It consists of scenes of an abandoned schoolhouse on the prairie during various seasons.
"I did that so they can see how the sky changes and how light changes," she said. "I love the prairie. I like smaller towns. There's something so wonderful about that open space. You think bigger thoughts if you have space to do it in."
"I absolutely loved it," said Alejandra Pelinka, president of the Burnsville Visual Arts Society. "She kind of stepped outside her comfort zone. This piece just has a lot of spirit to it. As a Midwesterner, you can certainly relate to that kind of environment where it is cold out but there is this warmth that comes from the sun."
Featherstone, a landscape painter who works in watercolors, oil and pastels, is one of the founders of the art fete. She works in a studio in the River Ridge Arts Building, which used to be the Minnesota River School of Fine Art, where she spent many years studying classical realism.
"The Minnesota River School was awesome," she said. "When I came here, it was to learn how to use oil, to get my eye trained to see things better."
Many friendships blossomed for her within the south-metro art community, and she often travels and paints "plein air" (outdoors) with artist friends. She does watercolor studies or sketches, which she sometimes uses to create larger oils or pastels of beach scenes in North Carolina, gas cans on a ranch in South Dakota, buildings in the Yucatan.
"We've got friends in all these wonderful places," she said. "I always take a sketchbook."
"She is a fantastic artist," said Daniel Mahowald, president of the Cornerstone Copy Center, who bought her "Fire and Ice," which depicts a New Year's eve bonfire on a lake up north. "We have this light that shines on it and makes the fire seem alive," he said. "We just fell in love with it. The colors just pop."
Paul Schwamb of Apple Valley hired her to do a watercolor of a stained-glass window to honor of his pastor, who recently died. "He was a very well-loved man. It was just really, really special. She was just an absolute joy to work with. In the end, what she put on canvas is exactly what I envisioned."
Featherstone prides herself on her diverse life experiences. She worked in fashion, spent years during the '80s studying decorative arts and cooking all over Europe with chefs like Simone Beck, and wrote a book on college planning.
"I've had some really wonderful opportunities to have a rich life," Featherstone said. "I should be pushed to express the wonderful things in life."
Still, art is difficult, physically demanding work that requires continual practice and study, she said. In her classes, Featherstone says she is a challenging instructor who preaches restraint. She always has to remind her students to use a minimal palette.
"It's like a candy store," she said as she looked through her box of hundreds of pastels. "You have to discipline yourself."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.