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Gaze upon the moon

Local artist Anna Palmquist mixes new discoveries and nostalgic feelings for Art-a-Whirl.

This Art-a-Whirl, see Anna Palmquist's work in her studio or at A.M.F. Gallery, both in Northrup King. All photos courtesy Anna Palmquist.

Years before Minneapolis-based writer and multimedia artist Anna Palmquist began to create art, she collected. Hand-scrawled Chinese takeout receipts, a cool coffee cup sleeve, postage stamps. As she and her husband moved from place to place, she would literally have boxes of this detritus. And then one day she started to bring those pieces together into collages.

Now, more than a decade later, she's still collecting, but instead of scraps for collages, it's visions of the moon, created in a wash of watercolor pencils. For Art-a-Whirl 2021, May 14 through 16, visitors to the Northrup King Building can find these curious, mood-setting pieces in both her studio and A.M.F. Gallery, which also includes hyper-realistic animal scratchboards by Melissa Helene and alcohol ink landscapes by Katie Clymer.

Each of Palmquist's moons is simple in execution but almost mercurial in the way that the watercolor pencil hues blend and swirl within their perfect circle. Scrawled on the rest of the paper are measurements and equations on how to get to space, and in the top left each is a typewriter label of the moon and where it was observed from.

"I really feel like that Maya Angelou poem about how we're more similar than we are different. Every man, every country, every society: We all have to live under the same moon," Palmquist says, noting that these pieces are part of the way she champions immigration and women in science.

She adds, "I think the moons are collages. Watercolor, typewriter, different information, pen, equations: It doesn't seem like collage, but I think the concept is like I'm grabbing something that is completely unrelated to this other thing and then putting it on the other thing and making you look at it and think."

A message in retrospect

The meaning behind the moons didn't really come to Palmquist until after she took a step back from her work, but she says that's not abnormal. With her collages, too, the message wouldn't emerge until she was finished. Only then did she realize that her images of women drew on her contemplations about society's unfair association between a woman's look to her career. Other times, she concedes with a laugh, she just wants to make stuff that's pretty.

Palmquist's sentiments are a perfect example of why A.M.F. Gallery owner Amira Freidson opened her gallery in the first place. "I am married to an artist, and just in my work with him, I really fell in love with artists," Freidson says, "Just being around this completely different way of thinking and processing and way to see the world—I adore it."

Right now, Palmquist has been experimenting with maps of made up places, encrypted language, and more abstract pieces. She says she doesn't know what her subconscious is trying to highlight yet, but if I were to bet, she probably will by the time she's done.

Connotations of the past

Overall, Palmquist's works tend to emanate a feeling of nostalgia. While she does use some technology (the size of her recent Detroit Lake maps necessitated scanning and Photoshop), her art seems to revel in the antique and the handmade. In a way it makes sense, she says. She literally grew up on the farm her 1900s Finnish predecessors planted the metaphorical flag in, and her childhood was surrounded by artifacts from that time period.

"Like if I would go to my friend's house, they would have, like, PopTarts and MTV, and their parents watched new movies," she says. "At my house, my grandparents are also living there, and they're speaking Finnish with my dad, so I don't know what they're talking about. ... My grandma's making yogurt—no one makes yogurt. She makes yogurt. We're listening to Finnish polka music, and my grandpa's playing the piano with old Finnish hymns. I feel like I kind of grew up in the right time period. These old things, they feel like home to me, you know? They feel comforting."

As Palmquist's art has evolved, this perspective shows itself in her pieces in different ways. Her collages bring new life to used and otherwise cast-off pieces. The polaroid photos she takes are composed of colors or subject matters that could be the same today or 30 years ago. Now, with her moon illustrations and maps, she tries to evoke the feeling of old fashioned exploration, with additional inspiration from John James Audubon's observational sketches.

No matter how Palmquist's style continues to evolve, though, she will continue to try being true to herself. After all, she chose to name her art brand "Stargirl Art" to remind herself just how important it is.

"For me, the role art has played in my life has been similar to the way Stargirl [a character from Jerry Spinelli's book] sweeps into her classmates' lives with color and surprise and play," Palmquist writes in a now bygone post on her website, describing the character as the antithesis of capitalist's desire for fame and money. "I have the gift of creativity. I want to use it to make art to be a gift to people like other's art has been a gift to me. When I create with this attitude, I like what I make. It feels authentic. It feels right."

As you wander through Northeast Minneapolis' galleries, take some of Freidson's advice on shopping: "There is a difference between decorators and people who bought a couch they love and a rug and paintings," she says. "If you find a place for it and love it, it works; I promise. If you connect to it, even if it makes no sense, it'll work."


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