Small Town Art School in Minnesota Renowned for Teaching Scandinavian Folk Art – WCCO
MILAN, Minn. (WCCO) — Due to its size, Milan is one of those must-see cities in western Minnesota. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find little treasures around every corner.
“The best way to describe Milan is quirky,” said Ron Porep. “It’s small, but there’s so much going on in this town.”
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During the agricultural crisis of the 1980s, the art school in the village of Milan opened in order to create teaching jobs for struggling artists.
“This area is a big area of Norwegian immigration, so most of the classes we teach are Scandinavian in nature,” said Porep, director of the art school.
Over the years, the school has carved out a place for itself, gaining popularity around the world and helping to establish Minnesota as the hub of the Scandinavian art movement. People come to the school from all over the Midwest to learn trades like silversmithing, rosemaling, and knife making.
“The Norwegians themselves were unique in bringing it here,” said Jock Holmen, who teaches at the school.
Holmen’s grandparents came to Minnesota from Norway. He drives from the Twin Cities to Milan to teach a Scandinavian art form called ‘acanthus’.
“It’s mostly about carving leaves to decorate anything from doors to cabinets,” he said.
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Using scissors and gauges significantly sharper than scalpels, Holmen students create works of art from birch and basswood. Some projects, like Kathy Nardi’s, can take weeks.
“This is supposed to go over a door,” Nardi said, referring to a piece he was working on recently. “It’s good because it will be eight feet away and no one will see all my little mistakes.”
Nardi has made the two-hour trip from St. Cloud to Milan several times. The acanthus is only the latest popular art that she strives to master.
“You take one class, you start taking other classes, and pretty soon you’re hooked,” she said. “You get the catalog and you’re like, OK, there’s the next three I’m signing up for.”
According to Holmen, one of these crafts can take decades to master, and they often lead students to explore other types of Scandinavian folk art. All in a 107 year old school building.
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The professors at Milan Village Art School are often Minnesota natives, but some travel from all over the country to teach in a town of just 300 people.