“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
~ Edgar Degas

The first time I marveled at a painting was in elementary school as we studied Vincent Van Gogh’s “Stormy Night.” I’m not sure if it was the sense of ordered chaos or the way the colors popped off that page that caught my eye, but that painting has always stuck with me. Art is often called the great equalizer and that sense of connectedness is on display every day at Moorhead’s Rourke Art Gallery & Museum.

“Art is about expressing and evoking a feeling. All humans have emotions and can react to art in this way,” said Rourke Program Director Trudy Sundquist. “While art is for everybody, it is important to note that artists use their creativity to express how they feel or what they see in their surroundings, which might include gender, race, religion, etc.”

The Rourke Art Gallery & Museum was founded in June 1960 by James O’Rourke, who had a desire to showcase the stellar work of local and regional artists. In 1996, the organization expanded to its current space in the former Moorhead Post Office building on Main Street. Since that time, the Rourke’s permanent collection has grown to approximately 4,000 works, including regional art, important 20th-century artists and art movements, and global art.

Sundquist shared with me a little-known anecdote involving O’Rourke and the first purchase of his collection. Apparently, when O’Rourke was a student at Concordia College in the 1950s, he visited an exhibit at the college and collected his first work of art, a small sculpture based off of an Ashanti gold weight. O’Rourke didn’t have any money (like most college students), so he sold a suit coat to purchase the piece.

O’Rourke’s estate was closed on February 22, 2016, and encompasses over 4,600 objects valued at over $1.3 million, including that gold weight statue. His bequest to the museum is the single most valuable donation of art in the history of the FM area.

Although Sundquist has only worked at the Rourke for a little over a year, she already recognizes the central role the museum plays in the local art scene. “The Rourke strives to present and preserve local and regional art and artists,” she said. “I am relatively new to the FM area and it’s been a wonderful opportunity to get to the know the fantastic and very talented artists of this area.”

Through a Lake Region Arts Council grant, the museum recently developed the Rourke Art Academy, consisting of classes for both kids and adults. These classes are free of charge and according to Sundquist, aimed at “connecting locals with area art educators to learn about new and ‘outside-of-the-box’ forms of art.”

Some classes last term were Aerosol Street Art Interactive Demo and Lecture with Jared Frober, Cory Gillerstein, and Micah Leitel (for all ages), Holiday Up-Cycling Craft Party with Chelsea Thorson (for all ages), and Acrylic and Mixed Media with Emily Williams-Wheeler (5th-8th grade). The Rourke will host another set of class in the fall and winter of 2016-17. Exact offerings are still being finalized.

Currently on display in the Rourke is the 57th Midwestern Invitational Exhibition of Fine Art. Although the exhibition is over September 4, there are still a few days to peruse the exceptional collection. Lasting a bit longer is the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists’ (FMVA) Art Educator’s Exhibition. Open to all art educators that feel the need to create and communicate why art is essential in our communities, the exhibition will be on display through September 18.

Admission to the Rourke Art Gallery Museum is only $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for children and students. The Rourke is open Friday through Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Updated information on exhibits and classes can be found on the museum’s Facebook page or via http://www.therourke.org/rourke-art-academy.html.


By Jamee Larson