During Ox Cart Days on Friday, Aug. 18, the Polk County Historical Society will host two different displays of watercolor paintings at the Carnegie. Two local artists have taken on watercolor art as a sideline passion along with their regular jobs.

   During Ox Cart Days on Friday, Aug. 18, the Polk County Historical Society will host two different displays of watercolor paintings at the Carnegie. Two local artists have taken on watercolor art as a sideline passion along with their regular jobs.  While using the same medium, their themes show differences based on their life experiences and their occupations. Ross Hier, as a DNR wildlife manager, will display nature scenes while Tim Bhajjan, pastor at Crookston’s Covenant church, will exhibit a wide variety of subjects, but mostly he will show Crookston people he has painted.

    The first person I asked about his watercolor painting was Ross Hier. Naturally he said his favorite subject to paint was anything having to do with Nature. Ross realizes this is a broad topic but “it covers everything from individual creatures to native prairie plants to landscapes to sporting scenes.” Ross admitted, “There are more subjects than I will ever have the pleasure to try and capture on watercolor paper.”

    Because of Ross’ work schedule, his painting tends to take on the rhythms of the seasons in northwestern Minnesota.  He revealed that “during fall's bird-hunting seasons I do not get much painting done. It is the same during my very busy spring field season when everything from taking the censuses of the greater prairie chickens before sunrise to prescribed burns. Those times consume my mind and leave me a tad tired in the evening.”

    Ross shared what may seem ironic since he spends so much time out in Nature, “I very seldom paint outdoors under natural light.”  The majority of his painting is done in his upstairs "art room.” When not as busy with his job responsibilities, he can commit many days to painting more during any given month.

    When I asked Ross if he sees himself more as an artist or a nature guy, he responded, “I consider myself a naturalist above all else. Although I was educated as a wildlife biologist and have worked for more than 34 years in waterfowl research and wildlife management, my diverse interests in the natural world lead me to love all things in the amazing world around us. I am always a little gun shy when people greet me with a phrase such as, "So I understand you are an artist.”

    Ross went on to explain his reasoning behind his response to that statement. “I've always felt there is a little "artist" in every human whether it is someone scripting software, repairing an electrical circuit or knitting a scarf. All are things my mind is NOT wired to do and thus, I look upon those individuals as having a gift they can share with others. When I view paintings by others who create images in the same medium I use and I stare and wonder "How did they do that?" At that moment, I certainly do not think of myself as an artist. As a self-taught watercolorist, I still do not fully understand my medium!”

    I’m always interested in who inspired people like Ross to become an artist in the traditional sense with paint and brush, so that was my next question. Ross’ broad answer was, “My mother and father always supported me and my four siblings in processes that interested us. My mother is a stalwart Nature lover and put up with many a lost snake or lizard in the house on numerous occasions during my early years!”

    Ross’ more specific answer of who had a large influence on Ross as he was growing up was his next door neighbor, Ms. Margaret Gillespie. She was a first generation Scots-American and a librarian at the local library. Ross stated, “The walls of her beautiful home were adorned with original oils and watercolors painted by her mother. I often gazed at these when I visited her to play dominoes and listen to the Twins on the radio. My favorite was an oil of a hanging pair of harvested game birds done in the classical European style of the early 1900s. One bird is a male black grouse and the other a white plumaged ptarmigan. So lovely ... it now hangs in our home as Margaret gave it to Leela and me on our wedding day 31 years ago. Since my earliest memory, Margaret also adored birds as I have. She gave me my first bird book, "Birds Every Child Should Know"; published in 1907. It still graces a shelf in my personal library.”

    Les Kouba was another person who was instrumental in Ross’ interest in painting while he grew up in southwestern Minnesota. Ross felt privileged to see much of Les Kouba's sporting art watercolors since he was from Hutchinson. “Kouba was a famous artist who depicted duck hunting and pheasant hunting scenes in landscapes that were readily identifiable as southern or northern Minnesota. I did what he painted and it made me want to capture my thoughts and adventures on watercolor paper.”

    Ross ended with “I realize some people enjoy my work as there are numerous individuals who own many of my originals. I think some of my work brings them to a place in their mind that conjures Nature's elegance and beauty. Some of my pieces may stir the nostalgic times in their lives; simpler and less busy days.  I simply hope my work brings a smile, a remembrance or a cause to someone.”

    The next watercolorist, who will display his work at the Carnegie on August 18, is Tim Bhajjan. He took up watercolors as a hobby and mostly used books to learn how to paint. Tim grew up in the city of Hyderabad in South India. He has always enjoyed colors and pictures but he never had an opportunity to learn watercolor painting while he was growing up. In 1985, Tim came to the United States to pursue graduate studies at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  In the 1990’s, he and his family traveled and lived in the UK and Israel where they served as volunteer Christian workers. It was during this season of travelling and living in different places that he began dabbling with watercolors.

    Tim further explained, “On our return to the US in 2003, I became part of the Evangelical Covenant Church as an ordained pastor. I served a Covenant Church in Lancaster, MN for four years and then took a three year revitalization assignment in Duluth, MN.  During this time is when I took a watercolor painting class with artist Lee England at Lake Superior College in Duluth, MN. In 2011, I came to Crookston to serve as pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church and began dedicating my days off to develop my hobby of watercolor painting. In the past few years my paintings have been exhibited and sold here in Crookston.”

    “Two years ago I participated in a watercolor workshop led by artist Mary Whyte and she suggested some specific ways I could further develop as an artist. Later that year I visited with artist Phyllis Kalliokoski from East Grand Forks and sought her advice on how to improve as an artist. My most recent workshop experiences have been with watercolor artists from Fargo, ND, Ellen Diederich and Michael Dunn.

    “I am a member of the Grand Forks-based River Fork Watercolor Society. I have enjoyed teaching an Adult Beginner Watercolor class at Crookston Public Library. I have also started a Crookston Watercolor Group which consists of a few local artists and we meet once a month to paint and share. The latest development is the formation of a local Men’s Watercolor Group that I instruct, meeting twice a month to do watercolor painting.”

   When I asked Tim what his favorite subject to paint, he responded, “In previous years I have painted a variety of subjects – landscapes, still life, seascapes and so on, but my favorite subject to paint is people! I most enjoy painting portraits and people doing things they enjoy. I like to capture the joy and life that flows through a person in the portraits and figurative art that I do.”  With his busy schedule of being with people, I asked where and when does he find time to paint. Tim said, “I have primarily painted on my days off from work. I have an area in the basement where I keep all my painting supplies and where I do most of my painting.”

    Unlike Ross Hier who sees himself as a naturalist first and foremost, then as a painter, Tim sees himself as both a pastor AND painter.  Tim stated, “I love to serve as a pastor, which is my life’s calling and I absolutely love watercolor painting, which is my favorite activity to rest and relax after a week of ministry.  I enjoy the people God has given me to serve in a local church in Crookston and it is primarily their faces and activities that I capture in my paintings.”

   The art work of Norman Rockwell, who was the artist for Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1971, has inspired Tim the most. Tim added, “Among contemporary artists, I am also motivated by the fine art work done by Mary Whyte, Stan Miller, Steve Penley, Andrew Salgado, Andrew Atroshenko, Paul Wright and David Walker, among others.”

    Finally, I asked Tim why he thinks his kind of painting is important to his viewers. Tim reflected, “I think people are naturally curious and when they look at my artwork, they encounter joy and life flowing through the subject in the painting. Often, in our local context of Crookston, people recognize the person in the artwork and that brings a smile to their faces. Often a story begins to form in their minds about the person they are seeing or the activity that person is doing and that becomes a topic of conversation with others later. I aspire to capture ordinary life moments like Norman Rockwell in my paintings in the days to come!”

    In order to enjoy and “smile” at the watercolor displays by both artists, Ross Hier and Tim Bhajjan, come to the Carnegie on Thursday, Aug. 18, during Ox Cart Days. The day before those exhibits, try your own hand at painting with acrylic paints the afternoon and evening of Aug. 17th with Bright Brushes fundraiser. To pre-register, go to Brightbrushes.com and find fundraiser for either the first session from 2:30 – 5:30 to paint the Dot Tree or 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. paint the “Perfect Lake Scene.” Both are $40 and once you are done painting, you get to take home a 16 x 20 inch canvas picture!  Smiles are guaranteed to happen during those two painting sessions at the Carnegie!