Area artist Dona Larkin displays work at K.K. Berge Gallery

Kyle Klausing
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune

The Granite Area Arts Council is a known powerhouse of fostering arts activities,viewings, and discussions in Granite Falls. Running through March 27, the latest exhibit by Renville based Artist Dona Larkin is no less than another spectacular example of the continued gallery offerings no one should miss.     

“I was born at the Granite Falls hospital” started Dona with a smile, “where I now have a large painting of the Minnesota river on display. My children were also born in Granite Falls and they are in the painting, feeding the ducks.” Growing up a mile west of Renville in a family of seven children, Dona has done some form of professional art since she was in high school, starting with commissioned works and moving into her full time artistry in the mid-1970’s. “So many people supported my work, but my family was the first to encourage me,” said Larkin, thinking initially of her mother.     

“I also had a wonderful art teacher in Renville, Mr. McKim. He knew how to teach art. He provided the framework and guidance for students to develop their own personal style.” During Larkin’s two years of art school she remembers educators like Bernie Quick and Jim Burpee guiding her art school growth with steady hands. Quick is known among other things for a large mural in the Grand Marais Shoreline Inn.     

After two years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Dona was ready to bring her sharpened skillset back to Renville. Dona explained, “I completed some pieces and asked Doug Henning, who owned our local restaurant, if I could hang some paintings there.” Soon the community and surrounding area residents found themselves drawn to the eatery for more than the good food cooking in the kitchen. Dona’s brush strokes had a flavor palette all of their own, creating a feast for the eyes, with more and more eyes coming to seek out her work each week.     

As a young artist she didn’t quite grasp how a small time diner display would quickly become more food for her family table. “Doug and his wife Karen sold my work there for many years. They both were so generous to share their space with me and I’m very thankful to them.” This tiny step forward became the extra chair leg Larkin needed to stand taller and go bigger with her artistic reach. Dona has since shown her work in regional and national art exhibitions and has sold numerous pieces online.     

Nowadays Larkin mostly does commission work and sells out of her home studio. “Sometimes people will email a photo to me and ask for a painting or they ask me to send photos of completed paintings to them by private message. That process works very well. So my computer can really streamline this art business for me” chirped Dona.  Larkin isn't completely digital at this phase in her life and still opens her house to art seekers. “Sometimes people will just come to my home with a photograph that they would like painted or they will give me a list of things and ask me to combine them into a painting,” she said. Dona explained this task request as if it was no different than someone stopping by to borrow a cup of sugar.     

The current Larkin exhibit at the GAAC is self funded and a compilation of a multitude of diverse works for her private studio. Some works are for sale, however, others are spoken for like any Belle of the ball. “I got permission from the buyers to exhibit their paintings through March,” said Larkin of some of the pieces. “This exhibit has my traditional oil and acrylic paintings and also some more experimental paintings and collage work.”     

Speaking on how to keep her passion and inspiration churning all these years Dona reveals that “every painting I see is an influence and an inspiration to me. I always try to fit an art museum visit into my vacations. Or art museums become my vacation destination. Studying the work of other artists is a very good way to learn. I am always inspired by my young grandchildren’s paintings as well. Their work is always so lively, colorful and interesting. Children’s art is always inspiring.”     

Outside of the GAAC gallery exhibit, Larkin just completed a large painting for the new hospital in Redwood Falls. She has also busied herself during COVID-19 with small commissions and is crossing her fingers that there will be a Studio Hop in Willmar later this summer or early fall. The well attended art hop has become another great place to present her work in recent years.     

In going through the list of interview questions Larkin spoke up with a smile, “I know there’s not a question number 10 but I have to say something about Joe. My patient husband always helps me set up my shows and navigates this very unpredictable art business with me while also actively farming the land that he grew up on.” It’s clear by the tone and conviction in her voice, Joe has been the constant co-captain in her many decades of sailing art industry waters.     

Larkin’s works are accessible during gallery hours for the next month with no artist reception planned at this time, due to Covid-19 precautions. However the walls are filled with many of Larkin’s unique pastoral pieces, giving any visitor the experience of enjoying a private studio tour of Larkin’s creative space. It's an experience that can't be fully described with words, it requires only the eyes and a few minutes of time but the return on investment is the wisest decision any Prentice Street pursuer could make this coming month.