The St. Croix Valley is brimming with artistic talent. From painters to sculptors to photographers, the many creatives who make this community home likewise help make it a vibrant place to live. To choose just two would be impossible, so we asked for help—these local artisans were nominated by Heather Rutledge, executive director of ArtReach St. Croix, and they discuss their inspiration in the Valley.
Anita Otteson, a jewelry artist, says her love of design sparked early on, when she was a young girl. “I remember hand-sewing a bag for myself with ‘CRAYONS’ in block letters sewn across the front. My grandma, upon seeing my creation, said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a designer someday!’” she says. Her grandma turned out to be right.
Otteson says her near-constant desire to learn new things drove her towards art. “Coupled with a certain amount of competency with spatial relationships and physical dexterity, I’ve tried every art and craft known to man,” she says. She learned sewing and woodworking from her parents, and through instructional books, taught herself a variety of other artistic disciplines—everything from bookmaking to crafting with cat hair—before discovering jewelry making.
Though jewelry was initially just a hobby for Otteson, it quickly became part of her livelihood. “I gravitated to making jewelry about 10 years ago for myself and friends, but since I can only wear so much jewelry ... I figured I would try to sell some of this stuff,” she says.
Otteson’s jewelry is now available at boutiques, including The Phipps Gift Gallery in Hudson and Bluebird in Alma, Wis. She says she gets most of her ideas for new pieces while working on others. “Usually it’s a change or addition to a current process, or sometimes it’s a solution to a mistake or problem that leads to something pretty cool,” she says. “I have a fairly simple, clean style, so I tend to look at the lines and overall form of elements for inspiration.”
Anita Otteson Designs
Nicholas Markell works in a wide range of mediums to explore themes related to both the natural and divine. A Minnesota native, he began studying art while growing up in Owatonna, Minn., and later earned a bachelor of visual arts degree from the University of St. Thomas, where he says he “became increasingly aware of the many ways my growing artistic sensibilities nurtured my faith.” After graduating, he worked as a commercial artist before entering the seminary in 1985. Markell says he seriously considered ordination, but ultimately chose to work in the studio rather than behind the pulpit. His religious studies in theology continue to inform his artistic pursuits.
Through glass, pigment and graphics, Markell creates iconic imagery, melding his spiritual quest and deep theological knowledge with his artistic talents. “I know the history of the church. I know the symbolisms. I know the cycles of worship. So I understand how images fit into liturgies and worship,” he says. Markell has designed stained glass windows and artwork for churches across the country, had his work displayed in numerous exhibitions, galleries and academic institutions and won many awards and accolades throughout his career. Markell says this spiritualist art is his vocation, and he sees it as a mission of sorts. “Images of worship are ones that really remind us that we’re called to something higher than the natural world,” he says.
Markell also makes time for pursuing art as a hobby, primarily painting nature and wildlife scenes. He always enters the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual stamp competition, which he has won several times.
Though his wildlife art isn’t explicitly religious, Markell says he still sees a connection between the two through Creation. “Naturalist painting and wildlife art challenge me to pay attention to the details of the physical world," he says. "I always end up seeing things I never saw before.”