Local artist Jess Gorman is gearing up for her first exhibition at the K.K. Berge Gallery in Granite Falls. A transplant to the area, Gorman says she is both excited and nervous for the January 24 open house of her exhibit ‘Follow the Yellowstone Trail.’ “The community of Granite Falls has made me feel like family,” reflected Gorman, “and you always want to make your family proud.”

The photographic project highlights the historic Yellowstone Trail, an east-west transcontinental highway running through Granite Falls and several neighboring towns. Gorman’s photography features various aspect of rural life, focusing in particular on the “changing architecture and imagery” and “each town’s individual identity.” The project was funded by the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council with funds from the McKnight Foundation.

Gorman was born and raised in the Dayton, Ohio area, and describes growing up in both large and smaller towns (she graduated high school in 2008 with a class of 100 other students). Gorman grew up amidst “manufacturing and industrial decay coupled with revitalization and vibrant greenspace,” instilling in Gorman a love of what she calls “captivating conflict.”

Ever since, Gorman has sought out this unique juxtaposition. “From the river ways of the Ozarks to the peaks of the Colorado Rockies and on to the wild of the undiscovered small towns of the Minnesota southwest; my goal is I think the same, to help people see and newly appreciate the places they pass everyday,” says Gorman. “I think that is what we all want to do,” she added, “be able to refresh our lens every now and then. Shake our etch-a-sketch.”

After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in political science from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in 2008, Gorman moved to Denver, Colorado, where she lived for the next nine years supervising several divisions of the Denver County Court. During this time, Gorman also worked photographing food and service industry businesses for online content. Although the experience paid well, Gorman joked that she would have “done it just for the food I was able to eat after the shoots.”

Another big life change arrived in February of 2017 when Gorman moved to Renville. After working as City Administrator there for nearly a year, Gorman says she “found a transition that allowed me to use my love for art, community, and history in a full-time capacity to better serve.” Though she has only lived in Minnesota for two years, Gorman says that she has “seen and experienced first hand a different level of support and community among artists than in any other place. The arts scene is strong, rare, confident and growing. It is really exhilarating to watch and be apart of.” She added that her “sense of adventure is invigorated here.”

Gorman stresses that she tries to be intentional in her work, adding that she believes art is “created to preserve, honor, empower, and tell a story of a place.” She relates the advice she received from her friend (and fellow photographer) Kristi Link Fernholz; “Art should fix something.” “I really love this,” Gorman says, “She’s right and it’s what I hope for in my own attempts to connect past, present and imagination in my work.”

The central theme in Gorman’s Berge exhibition is the Yellowstone Trail. The trail was first developed by rural community leaders starting around 1912 and remained popular with travelers through the 1930’s. In its heyday, the trail served as a vital bridge connecting the small towns along the central portion of Minnesota. Gorman says that this period was “a golden moment in time” and that “traveling this road to the nation’s treasures was a driver’s dream.”

Many of the works on display draw from this Yellowstone history. Simple items such as street signs and local landmarks take on new life through Gorman’s expert photography skills. One photo prominently features the water tower in Hector. Gorman says she reworked the colors and perspective so the image would match “how the day in the town of Hector felt.”

Another photograph depicts a radio booster device first invented by William Thompson of Milan in the 1920’s. In the picture, the device is held by Thompson’s great-grandson Billy ‘Maple Tree’ Thompson, who turned 90 last year and still lives in Milan. Gorman says that it was “really special to me to hear that story from the town of Milan.”

In her photography, Gorman says that she is “pulled towards finding the sweet spot intersecting community and history via art.” She says that she enjoys digitally remixing her subject “to make the rendition feel like the spirit of the moment. I’m a photographic impressionist, if that’s a thing?”

Gorman is looking forward to getting to share her work with the Granite Falls community. Already active in various local projects and initiatives, Gorman says that she is filled with optimism about the “bright future” of community art. “Granite Falls has momentum and a wealth of people showing up to the table with a common goal,” Gorman reflected. “They want to see the vibrancy in their community nurtured and elevated. It’s also clear the momentum isn’t stopping, with new artists and initiatives coming out of the woodwork.”

The success of art in Granite Falls is also attributable to strong community leaders like the Granite Area Arts Council (who own and manage the KK Berge Gallery), Gorman says. She explains that working with the GAAC “has been a dream,” and called them a “beacon” for rural arts. “It’s torch bearers like the GAAC that have fostered an environment where other businesses and organizations such as The Yes! House can move into the community and create,” she added.

In turn, Gorman hopes to contribute to the rural arts renaissance that has done so much for her own work. She says that she is proud to showcase the various “personal stories tied to these communities,” and hopes that visitors learn something new about the place they call home. “I hope seeing the amazing hidden detail of these communities through art, a stair banister in Bird Island, a piece of well done graffiti in Wegdahl, an invention in Milan, makes viewers think, smile and stop in their travels,” Gorman explained.

Gorman hopes that art projects like hers (and others) will encourage people to “talk to their Yellowstone trail neighbors about something they now look for in their communities,” adding that, “I found in my own experience it was the true art of the trail.

‘Follow the Yellowstone Trail’ will remain on display through early February. You can follow the Yellowstone Trail art initiatives via the project website http://www.followtheyellowstonetrail.org. Additional information about Jess Gorman can be found at http://www.jessgormanarts.com/ and to learn more about the Granite Area Arts Council, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GraniteAreaArtsCouncil/.