The K.K. Berge Gallery is hosting a new artist this month. Litchfield painter Tom Soucek’s work is now on display and will run through early November. The exhibition is sponsored by the Granite Area Arts Council and is open to the public. The Gallery will also host an open house on Thursday, October 12, at 6:30 p.m. Our reporters had the opportunity to talk with Soucek about the exhibit and his art.

Soucek never intended to become a professional painter. After leaving the service 35 years ago, he went to school and got a degree in art and social science, afterwhich he began teaching in Iowa. Eventually he moved to Litchfield, where he taught at alternative school. Soucek gradually began to realize, however, that teaching might not be for him. “After the school lost funding,” Soucek explained, “instead of moving my family to a new city, I decided to try something different.” The “something different” ended up being watercolor painting.

Ever since he was young, Soucek had a passion for art. He would doodle in his school notebook, and eventually taught himself how to paint in watercolors. “I would see other people paint and wanted to see if I could do something as good.”

Eventually, Soucek brought his work to a public art show, where he received positive feedback. “That’s when I realized I could do this,” Soucek reflected. “I saw myself getting a little better and developing my own style.” So, Soucek decided to take the leap and go all or nothing into watercolor painting, and hasn’t looked back since.

The northwoods play a prominent role in Soucek’s artwork. “If I’m known for anything, it’s the birch trees,” Soucek said, adding that they are his signature. He primarily focuses on the landscapes rather than specific wildlife, although he also enjoys painting different birds.

Soucek also takes inspiration from western Minnesota. Barns are another speciality of his, and Soucek takes pride in trying to portray them as realistically as possible. “A lot of people are surprised that I get as much detail in as I do,” said Soucek, “but there really isn’t a lot there.” He explains that it all comes down to finding the right type of paper, saying that certain types bleed more than others.

There are several works currently on display at the Berge that are among Soucek’s favorites. The painting of an old car done several decades ago is among his favorites, although Soucek he won’t sell it because “my daughter already laid claim to that.” Another painting features a red barn located between Hutchinson and Cokato, which he thinks is the best painting that he has ever done.

At the age of 68, Soucek is starting to wind down his painting. He used to attend shows all year round, but now only displays between May and October. He laments that fewer young people are getting involved with the fine arts, but understands why. “It’s hard to make a living this way,” he acknowledged, “it takes a lot of work.”

Nevertheless, Soucek hopes to see more engagement in rural arts. For young people interested in getting involved, Soucek recommends that they take the time to learn from those already active. “Go to the fine arts show, look around and ask questions. See what’s out there.” He also says they have to be willing to take a gamble. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he cautioned, but added that the opportunities are out there.