Donovan Widmer, chair of Art & Design, has been named by the North Dakota Museum of Art as the 2018-19 winner of the Art Makers Award.
Each year, the Museum collaborates with one or two Art Makers. Because few professional opportunities are available for artists from North Dakota and Northern Minnesota, the program spotlights those who live and work in this region. The Museum selects artists who seem on the edge of a breakthrough in their art. They are often at a juncture in their artistic careers where a “leg up” could invigorate, revitalize, or change the course of their art.
These artists are pushing themselves as they focus their work creatively and philosophically. They have honed their craft and found their subject. They work; they read; they research; and they think, all the while making art. Their final public presentation, funded by the grant, might entail an exhibition, film screening, performance, reading, or a public participatory event.
Other Art Makers focus on North Dakota or the Northern Red River Valley place, making art that contributes to the Museum’s growing art canon anchored in our own place. For example, Winnipeg artist James Culleton spent some time over three consecutive summers at the Museum’s artist-in-residence compound, McCanna House. His resulting drawings, sculpture, videos, performances and musical compositions tell the story of Margery McCanna and her ancestors who founded the McCanna Farming Company in 1881.
Widmer is the Museum’s sixth Art Maker, following Micah Bloom (Minot), James Culleton (Winnipeg), Armando Ramos (who at the time was teaching at Valley City State University), Justin Sorensen (then teaching at Minot State), and Mollie Douthit of Grand Forks and Ireland.
Widmer received his BFA at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and his MFA from the School of Art at Illinois State University. When asked why he was settling in the upper Red River Valley, Donovan replied, “Once you get over the harsh weather and what appears as cultural isolation, you realize there are incredible opportunities here. It comes down to finding like-minded individuals who share your interests. The city is large enough to meet your everyday needs, and small enough to feel like your everyday activities can contribute to the betterment of community and I want to be part of that.
“I reached a point in my career as an artist when I wanted to investigate new ideas. I felt my previous artworks were becoming formulaic and I needed to start a completely new artistic investigation. It is difficult as an artist to suddenly change everything and begin a new train of thought. This Art Maker’s opportunity provides the resources to make this shift.”
In the new body of work Widmer will explore Western ideals of beauty and the role of body adornment as a form of personal enhancement-a way to transform the wearer into their idealized image of beauty. Using traditional metalsmithing techniques such as vitreous glass enameling, chasing, and repoussé, he will produce a series of brooches that also harbor medical conditions that debase conventional ideas of beauty.
In the spring of 2015, the Museum opened its first exhibition in the Art Makers Series underwritten by Dr. William Wosick of West Fargo. Benefactor Wosick grew up in Grafton, North Dakota. He graduated from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine in 1981, specializing in Diagnostic Radiology. Today he practices diagnostic radiology in Fargo and is President of Independent Radiology Services, Ltd. For years, he has collected art and privately supported artists.