Frances Karlsson

Painter of the North Country

1925 - 2009

When Morning Breaks
19 x 28 Framed

Taking a Stroll
14 x 24 Framed

Summer Sun
23 x 28 Framed

Old Stone Church
24 x 14 Framed

24 x 14 Framed

Autumn Birches on the Lake
19 x 28 Framed

Einar and Frances Karlsson at Art in the Park
Roseau, Minnesota - July 2005

Frances Elizabeth Karlsson

Biography in

Minnesota artist, Frances Karlsson was a city girl who married a farmer ultimately defining her artistic identity. Ten miles from the Canadian border on a small (240 acre) grain and dairy farm, Karlsson raised six children while painting watercolors reflecting the life she was living with her husband Karl Einar Karlsson.

Born July 19, 1925 in Peoria, Illinois to Neil and Elizabeth McNeill, Frances and her brother Richard were raised in a modest home. Her first memory of interest in art was at 4 years old, watching her mother entertain her in church sketching the backs of people’s heads in a little red notebook.  Frances, at 8 years old, took over the little red notebook drawing women with large wide-brimmed hats covered in flowers.

Her first formal art training was as a 10 year old, taking six Saturday morning art classes at Bradley University in Peoria learning ‘to paint more boldly’ with poster paint on butcher paper. The turning point in her young career was a watercolor class in high school.  Her painting of the Illinois River was the only one that sold in the final exhibition. She told her mother she wanted to go to art school to be an artist.

As a senior she applied for a much needed scholarship to attend a Chicago Art School but did not win. Meanwhile her mother had told Frank Young Sr., the President of The American Academy, an art school with extensive training, about her daughter’s intense desire to become an artist.  Two weeks later a letter arrived from the American Academy of Art in Chicago with a full National Scholastic Awards scholarship (1943). Academy teacher, Stanley Gunther, who taught design and lettering, was her greatest influence, approachable and sincere and Frances grew in confidence.

Then “a job found me” – a call came to the school asking for someone good in illustration.  Frances worked for Scripture Press and then Zondervan Publishing until January of 1946. Following a war correspondence courtship and only 5 dates Frances and Einar Karlsson were married in January, 1946 and moved to northern Minnesota to start a new and vastly different life.  After 10 years of raising young children, growing gardens, canning and freezing food for long winters, baking bread, sewing clothes, washing diapers with no indoor plumbing, heating water over a wood stove, she wrote to her old publishers and began free-lancing again, working until 2:00am to meet deadlines. 

By 1970, her oldest children grown, Frances was tired of painting what others wanted her to paint. A bedroom in the farmhouse was turned into a serious studio in 1971 and Karlsson’s artistic identity became solidified around the North Country farm life she was living.  Watercolor was her primary medium as she painted the story of the small family farm: the broad fields of grain, big skies, and hay wagons, old log buildings, solitary churches, cattle barns.  Her paintings exude the simplicity and solitude of farm life. Karlsson’s fresh painterly style epitomized the eternal hope of the next grain harvest, rain clouds lingering on the horizon, and a love and nurturing of the fertile land.

Exhibitions of Karlsson's work soon followed at local institutions and then area colleges and universities.  Corporate interest and area galleries came calling with exhibitions in the ‘big’ city of Minneapolis at Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance (now Thrivant) and the American Swedish Institute. 

With a desire to excel and explore broader subjects, Karlsson took workshops from Montana to Maine from Zoltan Szabo, Edgar Whitney, Martin Ahearn, Murray Wentworth, Mary Lou Schlumn, Douglas Dawson and Marilyn Beth Hughes.  She admired noted Swedish artist, Carl Larsson, for his portrayals of family life and  Edgar Whitney’s logical approach to watercolor, his loose style, calling him the ‘father of American watercolor” and taking 3 summers of workshops from him. 

“I like to have a central character, a focal point that has unusual value, shape or contrast.  My advice to students is to “simplify and dramatize.” Most of all I want to show a mood and have the viewer feel something…nostalgia, contentment, action or intrigue.  I like to show the commonplace like a gardener’s straw hat tossed on the steps with an old gray bucket and packet of seeds, a country church.  I like the white contrast against landscape, the steeple spire reaching toward clouds.  I think that prayers are like steeples reaching for clouds.”

In 1989 Frances Karlsson helped found the Roseau Area Arts Association, followed by Art in the Park, an arts event held annually since 1990.  In 1993 a separate large ‘teaching’ studio, called “The Cottage” was built on the farm to accommodate the adult classes Frances was teaching to increasing numbers of adult students from the North Country who love her encouraging style.

Frances has contributed her art skills in many ways in the rural community in which she lives from murals at the County Fairgrounds to Christmas paintings for lamp posts for the City of Roseau, to doing over 40 ‘Chalk Talks’ at many area churches for over 12 years.  Entertaining and unique, Frances’ Chalk Talks were inspirational, popular and well attended, even by her own family.   She tells the following story.

 “One cold winter night I was traveling to Strathcona to give a Chalk Talk at a small church.  All churches are small in the country. As usual the whole family came along. We parked; a number of cars were there early. We walked in, all 8 of us straight to the front pew. I carried in the baby (Peter), Cindy carried in the chalk box, Faith carried in the music sheets and Einar carried in the easel and set it up at the front of the church.  I spoke to the pianist about the music background I would like for this particular presentation. Then one of the ushers approached me and asked, ‘do you think you might be a the wrong church?’  We all put our coats back on, gathered up the chalk box, easel and music, and marched back down the aisle and walked to the other church in town – next door.”

 Selected Fine Art Exhibitions:
Border State Banks of Badger, Greenbush, and Roseau, Northland Community College, Fergus Falls College, Bemidji State University.  Co-founder and exhibitor of Roseau Art in the Park. Lutheran Brotherhood Corporate Offices, Minneapolis, Crookston Winter Shows, Grand Forks Civic Show, American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis 

Public Collections:
Border State Banks, Northland Community College, Fergus Falls College, Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance Co., Grand Forks Herald Newspaper, Piper & Jaffrey, Simmons Advertising, Grand Forks Park Board, Larivee Law Offices, Grand Forks, Roseau Area Hospital & Homes, Greenbush State Banks, East Grand Forks Library, Riverview Hospital, Crookston

 Gallery Associations:
Browning Fine Arts, Grand Forks, ND; Riverfront Gallery of Grand Forks, ND; Recollections, Maple Lake, MN; Iris Gallery, Lindstrom, MN; Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, and McBride Gallery, Annapolis, MD

Awards, Publications, Memberships
First Place Award 2002, Artists Unlimited Fall Show; American Federal Award 2001,2002, Artists Unlimited; Art in the Park, Roseau; Grand Forks Herald; North Light Book Club Magazine cover and article “Member of the Issue: Frances Karlsson”, August 1991; West Acres Purchase Award 1980, Fargo, ND; and Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance Magazine “A New Exhibit of Art by Frances Karlsson”, March 1972around her.

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