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Check out our Event listing for the upcoming Opening of the Jon Arfstrom exhibit at the Anoka County Historical Society. Those in the Minneapolis area should make some time for come check it out.

From the Anoka County Historical Society newsletter: Sept/Oct 2016. Article by Audra Hilse, ACHS Archivist

There is a house in the city of Anoka filled with hundreds and hundreds of original paintings, although you could not tell from the outside.

The artist, Jon Arfstrom, was an unassuming man, rarely found without paintbrush or pencil in hand. Because of this, the legacy he left behind following his December 2015 death is both large and treasured, if also leaving his family feeling overwhelmed at times. The sheer amount of art that Arfstrom produced during his life almost defies comprehension and covers a wide variety of mediums: pencil and pen, oils, acrylics, watercolor, markers, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels all graced his canvases and sketchbooks.

Subject matter in Arfstrom’s art varies almost as widely as his mediums. His work ranges from beautiful watercolor and acrylic landscapes, to the formal portraits of U.S. Presidents he created for his 40-year employer, Brown & Bigelow. He made large acrylic paintings in the surreal genre, with underlying themes of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Arfstrom won awards both in the United States and in Europe for his work, and one of his paintings resides in a museum in Paris. He did numerous shows of his watercolors and was happy to give demonstrations to those wanting to learn the difficult medium (Arfstrom himself appreciated the challenge of it). He also took his surreal and fantasy works to conventions, showing the pieces and selling some of them. In spite of being known in these particular circles, however, Arfstrom did not put himself out to the wider world, and so many people do not know his name, even if they may be familiar with some of his art. Arfstrom carefully kept his work separated within those JON ARFSTROM A lifetime of art By Audra Hilse, ACHS Archivist Castle on the Rum 9-19-2007 9 distinct circles as fans of his surreal and fantasy work probably did not know much about his watercolors and his friends in the watercolor world did not see his surreal works.

Early in 2016, the Arfstrom family, including Jon’s wife, Norma, and one of his daughters, approached ACHS about preserving his legacy. Arfstrom had lived in Anoka with Norma for the last decade of his life, and scenes of the Halloween parades and the Rum River were common subjects of his art during that time. In addition to his art, Arfstrom was also a dedicated journal writer, noting daily his thoughts and events of the day. Scattered throughout these words are also sketches, cartoonish figures, and miniature watercolor landscapes. The family posed the question, “would ACHS be interested in having some of his art, and helping to tell his story?”

With little hesitation, ACHS staff said yes. While the Arfstroms lived in Duluth and St. Paul throughout much of their lives, they chose to retire to Anoka, and it is clear from his art that Jon was very fond of the area. We have been working with the family for the last several months to identify a representative sample of the art that will come to live permanently in the ACHS Collections, as well as planning an exhibit that will open in mid September. For the first time outside of the Arfstrom family home, the different genres of Arfstrom’s art will hang on the same wall at the same time for people to discover and enjoy. We also have some wonderful artifacts to fill in the exhibit including his drafting table, chair, lamp, and various tools of the trade that made up Arfstrom’s workspace for many decades, recreated any time the family moved to a new home. To once more recreate his workspace so visitors can see where and how Arfstrom made his art in addition to the art itself, is very exciting. Looking out a little bit further, we also plan to accession his journals, digitize them and make available online, and are looking into funding options to produce (in partnership with DreamHaven Books) a coffeetable style book about Arfstrom’s life and art.

We are very grateful to the Arfstrom family for giving us this chance to work with such an amazing collection. We hope you will join us starting midSeptember to come see and enjoy Arfstrom’s art, and come back periodically as we rotate in new pieces. We hope to keep Jon Arfstrom’s legacy alive and well, even though the artist himself is, unfortunately, no longer with us.


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