March 15, 2010
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
“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.