Minnesotans are in many ways the envy of other states in the union in that they have available for their leisure not only quality professional sporting teams to enjoy but are also privy to some of the best of the fine arts. Pro teams such as the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Wild, and pro soccer indeed keep the state from being dubbed the “Omaha of the Midwest.” But the fine arts of music, visual arts, drama, dance, and literature are also on a level second to none.
Minnesota showcases not only one but two top-notch professional orchestras, a world-renowned professional classical theater in the Guthrie, not to mention the dozen or so other quality theater venues, as well as fine art galleries and dance troupes. As for the fine art of literature, the list of world-renowned authors from our state is substantial.
With that in mind, let us not forget the community fine arts that flourish in our own back yard of Mille Lacs.
Take the fine arts in our local schools, for instance. At Isle and Onamia High Schools, band and choir programs provide students a chance to take lessons on musical instruments and perform in various bands including concert bands, jazz ensembles, pep bands, and marching bands. And both schools offer choir as an elective. Popular vocal performing groups called jazz choirs have also been in vogue with area schools – Onamia calls their group “the Arrangement,” and Isle High’s pop group was once called “the Singers.”
One of the oldest vocal ensembles of the Mille Lacs area was the Community Choir. Started by the Crosier Community of Fathers and Brothers in the 1960s, the choir later segued to Bethany Lutheran Church in Onamia, and for nearly 50 years, those choirs presented Christmas concerts for the general public around the lake.
There are also locals who have published original music compositions, including Crosier Father Eugene Lindusky who wrote an entire Mass no less, and Jan Smith of rural Onamia who has written a number of chamber pieces.
The fine art of theater continues to flourish in the two small towns and schools, as well. The Mille Lacs community has had a history of formidable amateur theater, featuring troupes, one of which was called the Mille Lacs Community Theater, that presented yearly plays and musicals for packed houses. An off-shoot of Mille Lacs Community Theater has been summer theater productions featuring youngsters from the Mille Lacs area directed by gifted theater people.
Onamia High first presented a musical theater show, “I Do, I Do,” in 1975 and has produced musicals every year except one ever since.
Isle High, too, has had a history of coming up with musical theater productions, first in their old high school, and of late, in the very functional theater at their new high school.
As for the art of dance, local school children have taken part in “We Kix” programs, and several Mille Lacs students have spared no expense in taking lessons from professional choreographers at dance studios in Brainerd, leading them to perform in competition around the nation.
And, if you will, the art of indigenous dance is performed at pow-wows each season by the local Native American Band of Ojibwe.
As for the art of literature, writers Mary Rains and Mary Wasche and the late Crosier, Father Charles Kunkel, have been published nationwide in magazines and books.
As for the visual arts of painting, sculpture and crafts, this Mid-Minnesota area has produced its share of local and world-renowned visual artists, including the late Ken Zylla and Al Mohler, who started their careers in Onamia.
Other visual artists from northern Mille Lacs County include Dick Miller whose work still adorns many places around the lake, including the sign just off Hwy. 169 directing visitors to Kathio State Park.
The caricature artistic works of the late Art Carr were featured on Mille Lacs Messenger front pages for over a decade, and his works are now collectors’ items.
The wonderful Ojibwe Native American bead-workers and weavers, some of whom who have their craft on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the area Indian Museum, as well as local woodwork artisans Steve Wolf, Ross Kutil and potters Richard Pullen and Dave Leach are just some of the gifted visual artists who call Mille Lacs home.
So the fine arts of music, literature, dance, drama, and the visual arts are alive and well in the Mille Lacs area, all part of the rich fabric of sports and the arts which help make Minnesota such a treasure.
Bob Statz is a Messenger staff writer.