Blair Earns Grant for Her Photography

Published Friday, March 13, 2015
Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair

For a long time, SMSU English Professor Elizabeth Blair has had a thing for bogs and orchids.

She will tell you, when discussing the topics, that Minnesota has 43 different kinds of orchids. Or that the Big Bog State Recreation Area, in Koochiching County, is the largest bog area in the 48 contiguous states.

And for a creative person like Blair, they are fertile grounds for her current projects she is working on during this, a sabbatical year.
“I’m working on both my photography and on a book manuscript,” she said. “The book is my memories about wild orchids, and my photography project is a series about bogs. It’s a great fit, as most of the orchids are in the bogs. I hope to illustrate the book when it’s finished with photographs from the bog series.”

She recently was awarded a 2015 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist’s Initiative Grant in Visual Arts/Photography — funded by the Legacy Fund — for her photography project, “Bog Tapestries.” “When I applied for the grant, I promised to show my work in four different Minnesota communities,” she explained.

She has used her Nikon D-600 camera the past four years on the photography project. “I shoot at different times of day, when the reflections are different. I shoot in different seasons, angles of the sun and weather. I have thousands of images. The bog tapestry series is very abstract. I shoot all of the photos in one little bog hole in a white cedar bog. The photos are reflections of water — all macro shots. Everything overhead is reflected. The layering effect is interesting.”

She has a cabin near Itasca, and feels very comfortable “up north.” “Minnesota has a unique combination of habitat,” she said. “You have the Boundary Waters that are internationally known, you have the gorgeous prairies, the hardwood and conifer forests. We are really blessed here in Minnesota.”

Blair categorized herself as a “developing artist” when she applied for the grant. “It’s only been the last few years that I’ve really started appearing at shows,” she said. “I was asked to specify what I would use the funds for in order to further my career as an artist. I want to develop an artist’s web site, buy a professional quality printer and learn to build my own frames for my photographs.” She will be taking a class in building frames at the Milan Village Arts School in Milan, Minn., this spring and will build frames for some of the photographs that she will show this year at the school’s framing shop.

Her four shows/appearances, as part of the grant, include:
• A June 2015 artist’s talk and Bog Tapestry slide show at the library in Roseau, where she grew up;
• A one-person exhibit of Bog Tapestries photos will open at the Edge Center for the Arts in Big Fork, Minn., on July 31, featuring double-voiced poems about bogs by poets Loree Miltich and Susan Hawkinson. It runs through August 2015;
• A display of her Bog Tapestries photos at the Concourse Gallery at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). The exact date for the show has not been finalized; and
• A Marshall Area Fine Arts Council gallery show. The opening reception is Jan. 26, 2016, and the show runs until Feb. 26, 2016.

The sabbatical has enabled her time to concentrate on her book manuscript and photography. “I’m grateful to SMSU for the opportunity,” she said. “I would not have had the time to apply for the grant while teaching. I want to also thank Jim Schwartz, with whom I studied photography, and Bob Dorlac, both of whom have been mentors to me. They have been cheering me at every stage.”

As for her love of orchids, it’s a generation thing, she explained. “I grew up on them. My mother loved them. Lots of orchids grow in bogs, and bogs are a central ecological asset to Minnesota.”

She has been at SMSU for 19 years, and will teach one more year before she retires.