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‘Art Makes My World Complete’

Watercolor painter Maria Bodette won Next Avenue's older artists contest


Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

Next Avenue recently asked readers to check out the work of seven talented older artists and vote for their favorites. Watercolor artist Maria V. Peters Bodette rose to the top with her captivating and beautiful landscape and nature paintings. You can view the rest of the nominated artists’ work here.

Bodette grew up and still lives in central Minnesota in the city of St. Cloud. She teaches art, reading and math out of her home studio, which she opened in 1991. We spoke with Bodette about her relationship with the arts, her community and her advice for novices:

A Bouquet of Joy by Maria Bodette

Next Avenue: When did you first start painting?

Maria Bodette: I started painting when I was around 6 or 7 years old. I used a tin watercolor set, and my dad would watch me paint. He said, “Maria, you may be an artist one day.” Before he died, he was able to see that I was an artist. My first art exhibit was in July 1992 at the St. Cloud Hospital, and my dad was in intensive care. The nurse said to me, “I don’t think your father is in his right mind. He thinks you’re an artist exhibiting downstairs.” I said, “I am an artist, and I am exhibiting downstairs.” My brother Mark took my dad downstairs, and he saw the exhibit before he passed away.

Why did you feel drawn to watercolors in particular from such a young age?

I guess because that’s all I could afford at the time. For my birthday I always asked for paint brushes or paint, and then I read books on acrylics and taught myself how to do that.

A handful of Bodette’s finished paintings

You’ve said your paintings reflect your life in Minnesota. Could you elaborate more on what inspires your work and why?

I am usually inspired by the beauty of a sunset, the trees in the winter with snow on them, and I usually go up to the North Shore [of Minnesota], sit on the rocks and paint Lake Superior — whatever I see around me that inspires me to paint. Sometimes I just sit down at my desk where I paint and start painting from memory.

How has art added vitality to your life?

It’s the connection with people and making people happy through my art. I use it as a gift or a surprise. Art makes my world complete. When I was very sick I painted through the pain, and it took my mind off things and made me feel better. Painting is like a happy place in my life.

Bodette and her work at Floral Arts in St. Joseph, Minn.

How have you spread the arts in your community?

Whenever there’s a fundraiser I donate my paintings or prints to the fundraiser, and people are very excited about that. I like to spread things to make others happy. One person started crying because a painting looked just like their home back in Wisconsin. I paint rocks, shirts, aprons, silk scarves and T-shirts. I share my art in all those ways.

I’m in the Art Dock in Duluth [Minn.] I also sell my prints and greeting cards at the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen between Duluth and Two Harbors [Minn]. I work through a floral shop in St. Joseph, Minn. called Floral Arts. I’ve known the staff since I was a child. I would stop there and pick out flowers for my mom while she was very sick. One day Elaine, who was running the show, said, “Maria, we don’t know what to do. Business isn’t great, and everyone in the floral business is selling jewelry and stuff.” I said, “Your name is Floral Arts, why don’t you get some art in here?” Now we’ve been working together for over eight years. They’ve been very successful, and things have improved in the floral business there. It just goes hand in hand.

Bodette painting on Park Point in Duluth, Minn.

What advice would you give to an older person who is interested in art but hasn’t really tried their hand yet?

I want to give them the freedom to discover color and line and form on their own first. Just use the brush and try it out. Paint something that you love, something that you connect to.

Would you recommend going to a class or starting at home?

If you go to a class you’re going to learn how that artist likes to paint, and that’s good, but when I learned I taught myself and worked on at least 100 paintings. Then you’re just at the beginning. It evolves through time. You evolve through so many different experiences in your life and different techniques, and you learn from different artists.

An autumn painting from Bodette

What would you say to somebody who is reading this story and thinks, “That’s so cool that she does this. I would love to have that, but I’d probably be really bad at painting,” or “I’m not an artist.”

This is my philosophy: Everyone is an artist. Art is kind of like learning how to read. You have to start with the basics and then move up year by year and add to your technique and to what you want to do. Everyone can do it. There’s no one that I ever thought didn’t have a great time in a painting lesson with me. The first thing I want to do is give them the freedom to express themselves.

By Grace Birnstengel
Grace Birnstengel is the associate editor at Next Avenue. She is also a contributor at the music blog Stereogum and has bylines at City Pages and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She most recently worked as an editor at The Riveter Magazine and at a trade magazine group in New York City. She holds a degree in journalism and gender, women and sexuality studies from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities where she was the editor-in-chief of the school's student magazine, The Wake, for two years. Reach her by email at [email protected].

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