Artist Nicole Zempel brings the forest to SMAC gallery space

Jess Gorman
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune

Nature holds beauty from canopy to floor in the woods of Minnesota. The prairie spans the expanse of the horizon line, for most, fading into endless untrackable miles of the unexplored. ‘Untrackable’ and ‘unexplored’ aren’t possibilities to local artist, writer, and forager Nicole Zempel. Capturing nature in its most natural and unseeable forms is simply her jam and if you have followed her growing career it's clear to see, this artist has put in the work to garner a Platinum record. 

 Zempel uses a unique mix of mushroom spore prints, writings and nature photography to tell the stories of the forests and prairies of southwest Minnesota. Her work has exhibited in multiple locations in Granite Falls and Zempel received a SMAC Emerging Individual Artist Grant in 2020 to spread her experiences even farther. Nicole is also a true educator, who teaches and shares her craft openingly through numerous community classes and video streams on fungi and foraging practices for every season as well as spore printing. 

On Thursday May 13 Zempel will take her show on the road with a month and half long exhibit at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Gallery in Marshall, the last exhibit day will be June 25. An artist reception will also be held on Thursday May 13 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Local fans can meet the artist, ask questions, and dive deep into the layers of natural beauty Zempel has laid at their feet - with no bug spray needed! The indoor experience will bring all the hidden joys of Nicole’s tireless hours, crawling delicately over moss, grasses, and rocklands, to the gallery walls in a format accessible to all. 

Like any altruistic educator, Zempel clearly respects her patrons' time and desired learning formats and it shows in the flexibility of her offerings. Those who can't make it on May 13 to explore the gallery in person can join Nicole digitally for the Third Thursday Virtual Artist Talk on May 20 starting at 5:30 pm. Interested parties may email to receive the Zoom link.

If you have seen one of Zempel’s exhibits, don’t for a moment assume you have seen these works before. When asked about change and technique in this exhibit compared to past works, Zempel said “change is how I see my subject, example a mushroom may be in the picture but it doesn't represent the could be the way a blade of grass is curved, or an acorn lay nearby...the surroundings help to make the whole. A thing is most beautiful in its surroundings so I wanted to capture that. These subject matters morph into something different as my eye evolves or as I go deeper into the life of so many microhabitats, making them visible to the human eyes.” 

In preparing for this most current exhibit, Zempel reflects on how her eyes have changed, how she sees her canvas of the Minnesota wild with a fresh view and new words more now than ever. “You can never walk the same path twice in the natural world, it's always transitioning and changing,” explained Nicole. What she calls the ‘newness’ of it all, can be seen in her spread of freshly printed canvases, each feeling like a secret kingdom from a fairytale, honoring mother nature's original works. 

Nicole is grateful, and she will tell you this daily if you see her! Often her gratitude revolves around the bounty of nature and mystery in the local ecosystem; but one more gratitude Zempel wishes to share is her overbounding respect for the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council who has supported her work through past grant funding and most recently, offering an exhibit space. Her art form is highly unique and holds the power to bring those unable to walk through the woods to the middle of the deepest trail without a drop of mud grazing their feet. It appears SMAC, as well as more and more followers have found the immediate value in creative bridge building, connecting the pureness of the lands with the people who often buzz right by. 

Don't miss this chance to experience the bridge to nature built carefully by Nicole Zempel. With the details one will see, the marvels she has found, and the words carefully crafted to describe it all, there will be no doubt, Zempel isn't just a bridge builder, she's an architect, reconstructing the very definition of art.

You can follow Zempel on Instagram under WildRootsMN as well as visit her website at