Featured Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth County Historical Society, Marian Anderson Gallery website – Closing Time by Marian Anderson.

By Michael Lagerquist

Marian Anderson, a wildlife and historic painter who spent her youth in Nicollet and Madelia before moving to a stone house just outside of Mankato, died Tuesday, January 26. She was 84.

Mostly self-taught as an oil artist, Marian received encouragement from her parents, the School Sisters of Notre Dame at school, and the Madelia Rotarians, who paid for a three-day seminar at the Minneapolis School of Art when she was a high school senior in 1955. To get started professionally, she worked with a commercial photographer, coloring and tinting black and white portraits, before beginning the hard work of becoming a recognized wildlife painter. In later years, she painted cityscapes for organizations in Mankato, Sleepy Eye and other cities, plus Minnesota State University, Mankato, for them to use as fundraisers. They were very successful.

Early influences

As a child growing up on Swan Lake near Nicollet, Marian gained inspiration from a painting that hung in her home called “Spring Song.” When she was about five, “I got a coloring book and a few toys for Christmas, not much, and I finished every single page of the coloring book before I played with anything else,” she told Connect Business Magazine in 2000. At age 8, the family moved to Lake Wilson outside of Madelia. It was in Madelia that she got her next push to be a painter.

Marian captures the spirit and then sets it free.

In the city dump, she found some artist’s oil paints. “They were so abused and twisted, with just a little left in each one,” she told Connect. But from those nearly empty tubes burst forth an artist’s career.

Her teachers, she said, would allow her time to work on her art, and her parents never discouraged her from pursuing her dream. She was inspired by what was around her: hard-working German farmer parents, a love of the outdoors and the opportunity to continue learning, without the benefit of formal education in art.

“Her father was an avid hunter and taught Marian about wildlife; lessons she would later use in bringing her paintings to life,” according to her website at mariananderson.com “Marian’s paintings are not just an illustrated subject but within each a story is told. You feel the wind, smell a rose or hear a brook babble. With each brush stroke a breath of life sets Marian Anderson’s art apart. As you immerse yourself into the depths of her painting, her art reflects the beauty of a lifetime of experience of the artist.”

She worked days and painted at night, selling a few paintings while still in high school. She began attending art shows at Madison East Center or a bank, not convinced she could support herself with her art but not giving up without giving it a shot. In 1961, she became a full-time artist, taking wildlife art or portraits on commission for $150 to $200 each. Before she retired several years ago, commissions were going for about 10 times that rate.

Photo by Mike Lagerquist. Marian Anderson unveils her painting "Journey" at a special event in May 2011. The painting was created as a fundraising piece for Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Photo by Mike Lagerquist. Marian Anderson unveils her painting “Journey” at a special event in May 2011. The painting was created as a fundraising piece for Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Influential Artist

According to her obituary, “[Marian] received many prominent awards such as Artist of the Year in 1991 at the Midwest’s Wildlife and Western Art Show held in Minneapolis, MN, received a commission to do the National Wildlife turkey stamp as well as paintings for Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Boy Scouts of America and other similar organizations.”

After years of working almost exclusively with wildlife and nature prints, Marian became more widely known locally when she ventured outside of her comfort zone. She was approached by what is now Greater Mankato Growth around the time of Mankato’s sesquicentennial in 2002 to create a painting of the Union Depot as a fundraiser. Although she told Connect, “I didn’t paint buildings and landscapes,” she found her style by creating a montage of images in addition to the depot, including the last steam engine, passengers waiting on the platform, the old Main Street Bridge, the Saulpaugh Hotel, Salet’s Department Store and the top of the Blue Earth County Courthouse.

“Partners in Progress” was a success, sparking more interest in similar paintings, and bringing Marian greater notice.

Painting the heart of Mankato

Additional nostalgic montages for Mankato were “Good Ol’ Summertime,” which featured Mankato’s Oasis Root Beer Stand near Sibley Park, and “Closing Time,” which captured Mankato’s Front Street before the Mankato Place Mall and urban renewal changed its historic, open appearance. Marian worked from photographs, blending images on canvas to show off the city’s bygone landmarks. Eventually, she created a piece for North Mankato as well.

As she approached retirement, Marian sought a location that could coordinate and sell her remaining original painting and prints. She chose the Blue Earth County Historical Society, which now hosts the Marian Anderson Gallery in the History Center at 424 Warren St.

“Marian Anderson worked closely with the Blue Earth County Historical Society over the years when working on her paintings that featured the past,” said Executive Director Jessica Potter. “In 2010, Marian generously donated her fine art print business to BECHS.  From that point forward, BECHS became the exclusive dealer of her art in the first-hand market. With every sale, 100% of the proceeds benefits the work of the Society, a lasting legacy of Marian’s passion for her community.”

The Historical Society will continue to serve as the official Marian Anderson Art Gallery and Archives.  An exhibition of Marian’s favorite originals will be on display at the History Center beginning in March.

A quote from her obituary that sums her up: “Marian Anderson oil paintings are diversified in subject so exquisite in their detail that they border on photographic reality. With each brush stroke, a breath of life set her art apart, reflecting her love for life and nature. With a lifetime of experience and perseverance as an artist, Marian defied the starving artist’s stereotype by becoming a very successful entrepreneur. One of Marian’s most gratifying quotes given by an art collector was, ‘Marian captures the spirit and then sets it free.’ ”

Marian was preceded in death by her parents and husband Venes (Vince) Meyer, who passed away in 2005.

Memorials may be directed to the Marian Anderson Fund at the Mankato Area Foundation or the Blue Earth County Historical Society. Arrangements by Mankato Mortuary.

Author


  • Mike Lagerquist is a North Mankato and Mankato native with a strong interest in local history, stories and buildings. He has been a newspaper reporter, public relations professional and perpetual volunteer.