art notes

A river runs through him

The Mississippi River winds its way through our city and our lives. A new book by Lynnhurst artist Ron Merchant follows America's longest river as it flows through Minnesota on its way to New Orleans.

&#8220Born by the River: People of the Mississippi River Towns” mixes Merchant's own plein air oil paintings with his photography and interviews he did with folks he met along the Mississippi. (&#8220Plein air” refers to paintings done in the open air with natural lighting.)

The book began in 2003 when Mayor R.T. Rybak and the city of Minneapolis created the MOSAIC celebration of arts and culture.

Merchant began painting people and places along Nicollet Mall every Tuesday for artwork to be included in the MOSAIC festival. When potential customers started asking if he had any paintings set in St. Paul, he began crossing the river to put his brushes to canvas.

An idea for creating a project linking the people along the river began growing in his head. After getting a small grant to help with travel and paint supplies, he set out to paint eight spots along the Mississippi: the headwaters at Itasca State Park, Jacobson, St. Cloud, Elk River, St. Paul, Red Wing, Winona and here at home.

At each spot, Merchant conducted interviews with locals, getting them to talk about their connection to the river.

&#8220I thought it would be interesting to formalize an interview process,” Merchant said. &#8220Do a kind of a Studs Terkel approach and let people tell their stories. Terkel is famous, in part, for his books documenting oral histories of the Great Depression and World War II, among others. So I formalized like 14 questions that I asked, basically find out a little background of the person. I wanted to see if there were differences between the real northern Minnesota people - the Lake Itasca, Jacobson people - versus the people who've grown up in Minneapolis.”

His conclusion? &#8220There are a lot of similarities. There's a lot of pride in the river, but a lot people don't really connect or do anything with the river.”

In Southwest, he spoke to Frank Brook Evans, an 85-year-old retired Linden Hills artist, who talked about his life growing up along the river.

&#8220It was wonderful from the standpoint of scenery and so on,” Evans said. &#8220I was only about three blocks from the Mississippi riverbanks.

&#8220We used to walk out to the tracks and pick wildflowers. It was very, very woodsy. And occasionally out there, we would meet, uh, uh, bums. They had a, a regular camp where they would stop, you know, and they'd chat with you.”

Merchant meticulously records every &#8220uh” and &#8220you know” uttered by his interview subjects.

Merchant's coffee table tome brims with his oil-on-canvas paintings of people and places, as well as photographs he's taken in his travels along the river.

His favorite painting, he says, is &#8220Mill City Morning,” painted last year.

&#8220There's no people in it, but I think it really captures the effervescence and the industry of what has happened in the last 150 years to Minneapolis and the river,” he said.

He's also partial to &#8220High Noon,” painted at 8th Street and Nicollet Mall last year.

Merchant has lived in his beloved Lynnhurst since 1978.

&#8220We moved from a place at 34th and Park Avenue, a three-floor house with a garage, four-bedroom, to a one-story house without a garage, two bedrooms, because of the neighborhood,” he says.

Merchant's book, the paintings from &#8220Born by the River,” and about 50 of his photographs will be part of an exhibit at Robbin Gallery, 4915 42nd Ave. N., in Robbinsdale.

If you'd like to order a copy of the $40 book, you can get more information at or you can call 929-9443.

There will be a reception with Merchant on Saturday, May 6 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the gallery.

Exhibit hours are Tu-Th, 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; F-Sa, noon-4 p.m. &#8220Born by the River: People of the Mississippi River Towns” will be on display from Wednesday, May 3 through May 27. Admission to the gallery is free.

A conversation

Singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt writes about beauty and pain. He lives it, too. Sometimes the pain he sings is beautiful and delicate, even as it gets so dark that it becomes one with the existentialist chasms littering his life.

Chesnutt is a paraplegic as the result of a 1983 car accident he had while driving drunk. He was 18 years old.

He has made a number of critically acclaimed albums since then, including 1993's &#8220Drunk,” 1995's &#8220Is the Actor Happy?” and last year's &#8220Ghetto Bells.”

He'll be part of &#8220Contemporary Art in Conversation” with filmmaker Jem Cohen (&#8220Benjamin Smoke” and &#8220Instrument”).

Naturally enough, the two will discuss music and film (they worked together on Cohen's 1996 film &#8220Lost Book Found”).

Th April 27, 7:30 p.m., Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave.,Free. (Free tickets will be available from 6:30 p.m. at the lobby desk.) 375-7600,

art notes

Trio Benedicta

The Trio Benedicta, with guest violinist Coca Bochonko is going to perform the Schubert's piano trio in B flat and Brahm's piano quartet in G minor, as well as other selections in an upcoming Southwest concert.

Trio members are Fr. Robert Koopmann, O.S.B., piano; J. David Arnott, violin; Lucia Magney, cello. All are faculty members of St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict.

F April 21, 7:30 p.m., St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 4557 Colfax Ave. S. Free. 824-2696,

O Homer

The filmmaking Coen brothers were born in St. Louis Park, but their travels as makers of sometimes-brilliant, idiosyncratic cinema has taken them to places you and I can only dream of, or see on the Travel Channel.

The pair insist they haven't read Homer's epic poem &#8220Odyssey,” and who can blame them? The thing is 24 books long. But even though they're ignorant of the specifics, the Coens, like pretty much everyone else, know enough about it to base a hilarious screenplay and movie on the broad premise of the poem. That movie was, of course, &#8220O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Now some more homegrown talent reworks the &#8220Odyssey”; this time it's the Children's Theatre, with its world premiere of &#8220Anon (ymous),” by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Peter Brosius.

The play's 11-member company includes Twin Cities actors Annie Enneking, Steve Hendrickson, Terry Hempleman, Emil Herrera, Marvette Knight, Gavin Lawrence, Becka M. Ollmann, Hadija Steen-Omari and Sonja Parks.

The story of a young Southeast Asian refugee called Anon is ancient yet as current as the headlines in the newspaper.

Anon enters the country without identity or property, swept ashore after a boat crash into the giant, neon-lit chaos called America. He needs his instincts, wits and resilience to survive wild times in a new world.

&#8220Anon” runs through April 29 on the Cargill Stage and is suited for audiences ages 15 and up.

Now through April 29, check for show times. Children's Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S. $18-$28. 874-0400,

Death will never be the same

What do you get when you combine a lifelong study of the dead human body with a doctor of philosophy degree and modern dance? Before you formulate an answer, factor in this: the dancing is done to the synth-pop music of Berlin (they had the &#8220Top Gun” hit, &#8220You Take My Breath Away”).

Now go ahead and formulate.

If you're having trouble coming up with anything coherent, consider taking in &#8220On The Untimely Death of John Erik Troyer, Ph.D.” which is presented, coincidentally enough by John Erik Troyer. The comedy is described by its creator as &#8220a cautionary tale of intellectual labor run amok.”

M and F April 10 and April 17, 7 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St. $12-$15 ($10 for students or with Fringe Festival button). 825-3737,

Double vision

Minnesota artists Daniel Kaniess and Yang Yang are part of the double exhibition &#8220Energy Palimpsest” and &#8220The 3rd Megaton” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The show features the recycled mixed-media pieces of Kaniess and Yang's figurative paintings and drawings, including a 28-foot mural.

Kaniess is originally from Wisconsin, but moved to Minneapolis in 1979 where he's been an active Twin Cities art scene player since.

Yang left China for Sioux Falls, S.D. in 1984, moving to the Twin Cities in 1991.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S., is open Su 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tu, W, F, Sa 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Th 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed on Monday. Admission is free. Call 870-3131 or visit for more information.

Breaking up is hard to do

As the Soviet Union slowly came apart from the 1960s through its fall in 1991, it attempted to regulate almost every aspect of personal, individual expression, including the arts. In that time period, two distinctly different modes of artistic expression emerged, presenting a vivid visual dichotomy.

The Museum of Russian Art presents the two schools of artistic thought and expression in &#8220Soviet Dis-Union: Socialist Realist and Nonconformist Art” from Thursday, April 20 through August 19.

The Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Ave. S., is open M-F 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sa 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed on Sunday. Call 821-9045 or visit for more information.

Grand illusions

When you look at Matthew S. Rucker's paintings, you would swear they're the result of a high-tech, high-megapixel digital camera, so realistic-appearing are the images.

In his exhibition &#8220Dusk,” Rucker's atmospheric images conjure up hot, humid summer nights with storm clouds towering majestically over familiar vantage points.

&#8220Dusk” opens Saturday, April 22 with a reception from 7 p.m.-10 p.m. It will run through May 28 at Gallery 360, 3011 W. 50th St. Gallery hours are M-Sa, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Call 925-2400 for more information.