Denfeld News

March 15, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Former Duluth art teacher receives prestigious award for watercolors
By Christa Lawler

One of John Salminen’s favorite painting locations is in Chinatown on Grant Avenue in San Francisco. This is where he was one foggy morning that was curiously void of traffic and people. He took a photograph of what he saw and later turned it into an award-winning watercolor.

“Morning Fog” recently won the 143rd American Water Color Society Gold Medal of Honor, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of watercolor.

Salminen’s painting will be exhibited at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, as one of about 100 other pieces selected by a jury of artists and narrowed down by judges. This is the second time that Salminen has received the award. In 2006, his painting “Rainy Day” also got the gold — which he said gave him a quantum leap forward with his career.

“Well, it’s terrific,” Salminen said of the recognition. “It’s very flattering. After I started gaining recognition in the AWS shows, then other national shows and several magazines expressed interest in my work.”

These scenes from the city are Salminen’s forte: He uses photographs he has taken in places such as San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles as a springboard to the work he does when he gets to the studio in his home, where he paints eight to 10 hours a day. He refers to the photos for the details, which his paintings are known for, but sometimes alters the emotional content by turning a night to day, a day to night.

Salminen, of Duluth via Roseville, Minn., taught art in the public schools for 33 years. When he retired in 2001, he was 10 years into a to-do list of items he wanted to accomplish so he could be a professional artist when he was done teaching.

He wanted signature membership in the American Watercolor Society (check) and the National Watercolor Society (check), groups that give artists credibility. In that period, he also had stories published about him in national magazines (check), which helped brand his name. In his final years of teaching, he worked 40 hours a week and painted at least 30 hours a week on nights, weekends, holidays and summer vacations.

One of the hard parts of retiring, he said, was learning to limit his time in the studio and make time for brook trout fishing, reading and the 16-piece big band he played in until his travel schedule for workshops and demonstrations made it an impossible commitment.

“I really did have to step back so that I wouldn’t be totally consumed,” he said. “With a studio in your home, there is nothing to keep you out of the studio. You still have to have a life.”

Watercolorist Steve Rogers, a professional based in Ormond Beach, Fla., who served as a juror in the AWS competition, said selecting Salminen’s painting was a “no-brainer.”

“He succeeded beyond what he usually does, which is a high level of accomplishment,” Rogers said. “[His paintings] are done in a distinctive style. They are well thought-out.”

Sue Pavlatos, a local artist who is a member of the Lake Superior Watercolor Society, said Salminen is a good art resource whose presence here attracts other top-tier watercolorists to the area for workshops and demonstrations.

“[Salminen’s paintings] are very photo-realistic, with an abstract quality,” she said. “He’s a wonderful abstract painter who brings realistic things to the table.”

Salminen’s painting “Golden Boy Pizza” will be exhibited at the Jiangsu Province Art Museum in Nanjing, China, as part of the Second Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary Watermedia Masters Exhibition. He and his wife, Kathy, will travel there for the show, a trip that Salminen said is bound to get Shanghai added to his list of favorite subjects.

“From the pictures I’ve seen [of China], I’m sure that will drive my paintings for a couple of years after we’ve returned,” he said.

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