The Priceless Nature of Kah-Nee-Tah

Written by, Sarah Nelson // Founder and Artist of Auslandish Co. 

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There are many places and people throughout life that shape an artist, my story includes the bright light of the beautiful people of Kah-Nee-Tah in Lutsen.
— Sarah Nelson

There are many places and people throughout life that shape an artist, my story includes the bright light of the beautiful people of Kah-Nee-Tah in Lutsen. People and places, and the story that is lived out between the two, has been a preoccupying relationship that I have been drawn to for as long as I can remember. Possibly because I spent the first half of my life living overseas. I have a sensitivity to how these key elements affect the sense of home and belonging. Looking back, I can see the winding road that I am on, where through my art, I contemplate the powerful relationship between land and species, as well as land and humankind.

The older I become, the more land and place speaks to me. The colors in the seasons, the patterns in bark, the colors of the sunrise, the peaceful joy of birdsong, and the uneasy voice of the wind. Travel and exploration, has given me a deep need to communicate, document, and explore, what I am witnessing and experiencing through a visual means. From the deserts and canyons of Utah, the jungles of the Dominican Republic, the western shoreline, the waves of Lake Superior, to the ecosystems in our backyards, they are each teaching me something different, and calling out something different in me, that is continuing to evolve through my creative work.

These places shape me.

The colors in the seasons, the patterns in bark, the colors of the sunrise, the peaceful joy of birdsong, and the uneasy voice of the wind. Travel and exploration, has given me a deep need to communicate, document, and explore, what I am witnessing and experiencing through a visual means.
— Sarah

My latest exhibit was a small representation of the DNR’s long list of endangered species in Wisconsin. In my art company, Auslandish CO., I focus on State and National Parks, and am working on material that will help educate young and old through fun illustrations, about the joy and simple ways we can care for and engage our land. I have an ongoing series that documents the colors of the sunrise and another project that is focused on coral reefs from around the world.

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My shift from fearing nature to falling into a deep love for nature, began in my early twenties on the North Shore of Minnesota. It was the first place where I felt I had truly had found belonging. Climbing and exploring it’s forests and rocky shores slowly opened my eyes and heart to a deeper and truer version of myself and and my art.

Tucked into the shore, in Lutsen, there is a special gallery and it’s three cottages. Kah-Nee-Tah, has been around for decades, but I only became acquainted with the lovely women who are the new owners, a year ago. Since then, I have done residencies, sold my work in their gallery, built a new website for them, and Danielle Fortin and Linda Garrity have become dear friends. 

I will never forget the first time I stayed in one of their cottages. I was dropping off work to the gallery, for the first time. They gave my husband, John Mark, and I a free nights stay in the Studio, a magical 18 hours. It was April, and cold. The day we arrived there was no snow on the ground. We made ourselves a special dinner in the little kitchen, kept the fire stoked, drank wine and dreamt about what the rest of the year would hold. It was one of my favorite conversations and evenings he and I have ever shared. We fell asleep with embers in the fireplace, and woke up to gentle big flakes of snow falling softly and deer outside our window. Everything was coated in white and quiet. We stayed until check out, making breakfast drinking coffee and filling our hearts and spirits with the life giving rest that resides in that space, a gift just waiting to be enjoyed.

Since that day, I have stayed in all three cottages. Each one with its own charm and story. Each one inviting you to rest and feel at home. In the fall of 2017, I was one of the artists in residence for an art tour along the North Shore. It happens every year, and I was honored to be invited as a participating artist. Sleeping with the windows open we could hear the birds chirping and the waves from Lake Superior. I would wake up every morning, rest by the fire with coffee and breakfast, and from there I would walk up the back road to the gallery. For a few sessions of a few hours, I would sit in the gallery next to Dani or Linda and work on my craft, engaging with visitors about my current project. Often times, I would stay longer than scheduled because of the special people I was meeting and the good conversations that were taking place. Then I would pack up and make my way back down the back road through the woods to the cottage. The evenings were spent working on the deck facing the lake, listening to the waves and breathing in the good air, and working into the evening by the fire.

It was sunny everyday and in the mid fifties. The tree lines were glowing with a yellow that can only come from Fall, soft but bright, tucked between the dark green of the pines.

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The gallery represents roughly eighty different artists, ranging across all mediums. They take such thoughtful care to feature all work equally and to be knowledgeable about the artist and the art they represent. No small feat with such a large and broad roster. They promote the artist, their work, and do their best to be holistic in their care for their artists. There aren’t many galleries that will promote you, work hard to get to know you, and also provide peaceful space for work and rest. That is a priceless gift to any artist.

Doug Ross, a fabulous painter who was also an artist in residence during my time, painted in the second gallery. We would take breaks to talk about our process and our work. His work and dedication inspires me still today. Every morning he would make breakfast and coffee in the early hours and he would be at the easel well before anyone else got to the gallery. By the time I arrived, he had already finished two to three paintings. To share space and learn from artists of that caliber was wonderful.

Tucked into these Northern shores are truly wonderful people. The shore alone is a deeply inspiring and life giving space, where I know no matter what trail I hike, pull-off I find, and time of year I go, I will leave with more than I came. I will return home with more knowledge, rich memories, a feeling of peace, and having seen stunning sights. The landscape is written into so much of my work. Having defined in many ways my current career.

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"The shore alone is a deeply inspiring and life giving space, where I know no matter what trail I hike, pull-off I find, and time of year I go, I will leave with more than I came."

-Sarah Nelson

The Fall artist residency was a definitive time for me. I left for the artist residency directly from my grandfather’s funeral. I was grieving a great loss of an amazing man. I was grateful to be finding refuge among my favorite trees and the sounds of Lake Superior. On my drive North, the kindness of Linda and Dani was a gift. Sending me thoughtful messages. I arrived at the cottages with a heavy heart and was received by women who were quickly becoming dear friends. I was welcomed to a space where I could grieve, rest, and grow in my art.

What human beings need is a place where they are safe and invited to be more of who they are. Whether through resting, working, wandering, dreaming, or creating, natural environments tend to bring new parts of ourselves to light.

That is part of the priceless nature of Kah-Nee-Tah. It is not only a gallery, or a place to stay on the shore. Because of the nature of it’s hosts, women who deeply care about their artists and visitors, and who care about the land and place they occupy, you can feel the love and dedication in the soil and in the wood beams. It is a powerful gift that creates and makes a space, sacred and deeply life giving. Come grieving, come celebrating, come longing for rest or adventure - come as you are, there is space for it at Kah-Nee-Tah.

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Auslandish Co.

Lisa Frank