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Making art, on location

Area’s first plein air art festival coming in August

The area’s first ever plein air art festival is coming to Pope County in west central Minnesota Aug. 9-16, and artists of all levels are invited to participate.

The festival appeals to three groups of people – artists who paint outdoors, adults and children learning to paint, and art lovers searching for original paintings of Pope County sites.

Professional artist Raleigh Kinney will teach a workshop focused on outdoor “plein air” painting during the three days leading up to the festival. Anyone interested in learning outdoor painting techniques can attend his workshops Aug. 9-12.

The festival really takes off Aug. 13-15, when registered artists will paint and draw at sites all around Pope County. The public is invited to view and bid on the artworks created during the festival on Saturday, Aug. 16, beginning at 9 a.m.  Join the artists at a reception at 6 p.m to celebrate a week of outdoor work.  Silent auction bidding closes at 6:30 p.m.  The reception and awards continue until 9 p.m.

The Glacial Lakes Plein Air Art Festival is being organized by Nory McNelis, a plein air artist who recently moved to the area and saw the potential for a festival.

“This area is such a well-kept secret,” said McNelis. “It is not like any other part of Minnesota. It is so unique.”

There are a couple of plein air events in the state, but there has never been one in this part of the state.

“Plein air is a French term referring to artists going outdoors to paint scenery rather than staying in their studios,” said McNelis. “It requires a certain discipline. Instead of working from memory or from a photograph, you are seeing the scene in pure natural light with real colors. And the colors are true in nature.”

All participants in the event will bring their paper or canvas and frame to Pope County Historical Museum in Glenwood, which will serve as the festival’s “home base.” On Wednesday, Aug. 13, from 8 a.m.-12 noon, artists will sign, in and the paper or canvas will be stamped to assure it will be painted at this festival. Artists select a site, bring their materials to the site and get to work.  Artists can pick any site, as long as it is within the borders of Pope County.

“They have a limited amount of time to capture the vision they see,” said McNelis. “Artists can use oil, acrylics or watercolor, or they can draw or use pastels.”

A Kids Klass for young artists will be held Thursday afternoon, Aug. 14, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Pope County Museum.  At the same time, adult artists will have a “quick draw” competition on the museum grounds.

A “quick draw” challenges artists to finish a painting in a limited time.

On Friday, Aug. 15, all paintings and drawings must be turned in between 2-7 p.m. at the museum. After 7 p.m. There are two divisions for awards — oil/acrylics and watercolor/pastels/mixed media.  Awards will be determined by Raleigh Kinney and announced at the Saturday evening reception.

Quick draw paintings will be featured at the Central Square gallery on Friday evening as part of the Allison Scott concert which begins at 7:30.

On Saturday, Aug. 16, the finished artwork will be on display at the museum.

“Completed artwork from the festival will be sold at a silent auction on Saturday.  Bidding runs from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.,” said McNelis. “Artist awards will be announced at a public reception from 6 – 9 p.m.”

To register for the Plein Air Art Festival, contact McNelis at 612-720-7443 or email More information can be found at There is a $45 entrance fee to participate in the Plein Air Art Festival ($25 for students).

“Everyone is invited to participate in the event and come for the silent auction,” said McNelis.

Inspiration for Festival

McNelis has always liked art and considered pursuing a career in art when she was a young girl.

“My mom said I would starve if I majored in art,” she said.

McNelis went on to become a teacher and taught third-grade in Chaska for many years. She left teaching in 1984 and attended the College of Art and Design for a year and a half before changing directions again. She went into sales and then into real estate. She was a realtor with ReMax for 15 years before retiring in 2002. And that is when her passion for art started to really intensify.

“Any time I would have a vacation I would go someplace warm that had a painting workshop,” she said.

She makes and sells handcrafted silk scarves on the side and continues to travel and learn more about painting.

“I met up with Betty Ritter when I was traveling in the Prescott, Ariz. area, and we became good friends,” she said. “And I trained under the master artist Yi Kai for three years.”

Nory and Betty were traveling through Utah together and attended a gallery showing in Escalante, Utah. They were asked if they wanted to participate in a plein air festival in the area. They decided to try it. Nory has been going back to Escalante for 11 years. Her love for painting outdoors has grown because of her experiences in the Utah festival.

When she moved to a lake home on the shores of Lake Minnewaska near Glenwood, she started to think about the possibilities of a plein air festival in this area. She proposed the idea to the Lake Region Arts Council and was awarded a grant to start the festival this year.

“It’s been exciting to have the enthusiastic support of the Arts Council and the Pope County Museum,” said McNelis.

Plein Air Workshop

The first three days of the festival feature a Plein Air Workshop lead by Raleigh Kinney designed for those new to painting outdoors or looking for tips from a professional. Kinney has been perfecting his craft of watercolor at plein air events for more than 30 years and participates in plein air festivals every year. He has earned many awards over the years for his art and is an active member of the Plein Air Painters of America.

The three-day workshop runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Aug. 9, 10 and 11. The workshop will start at the Pope County Museum on Aug. 9 and then will move to new sites on Aug. 10 and 11.

The workshop costs $50 per day and artists may attend one or more days. Those interested should contact McNelis at 612-720-7443 or email More information can be found at

The Glacial Lakes Plein Air Festival was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Lake Region Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund, and with help from the Pope County Historical Museum.

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