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Meet the Art-A-Whirl artist: Emily Gray Koehler

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[This weekend marks the 21st annual Art-A-Whirl, a three-day celebration where hundreds of artists working in northeast Minneapolis open up their studios for gallery shows, artist's talks, special sales, demonstrations, and more. In preparation for the huge festival, we'll be taking a moment to meet a handful of the talented artists, businesses, and creative project managers who make Northeast the artsy hub it is.]

Your name: Emily Gray Koehler

Where we can find you this weekend:

I will be exhibiting in the fourth-floor lobby of the Casket Arts Building.

Years spent in your current space, and working in MN:

I have been working out of my current studio space in downtown White Bear Lake for three years. I have been creating art in the state of Minnesota for the past seven years.

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Briefly, tell us about what you do and why:

My primary medium is printmaking. Most of my woodcuts and collagraphs explore the complicated connection between humanity and the natural world. We are now living in the geological epoch called the Anthropocene where nothing is left untouched by man. With this knowledge, I find it imperative to create work that not only moves me, but also explores this ever-present and generally one-sided relationship.

Name three things that are influencing your work right now:

Three things that are influencing my work at the moment are the ecological awakening of spring, my garden, and the restoration of Rice Creek through the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills, MN.

Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:

I cannot really remember a time when I wasn’t creating something. Growing up with a family of artists around me, I was gifted with plenty of inspiration and encouragement. As a child in wooded northern lower Michigan, I was particularly interested in the forest and all its creatures: a cornucopia of slithery, leafy, furry, and four-, six-, and eight-legged life. In college, I focused on my family’s ancestral farm and our stewardship of that land. Since moving to Minnesota, I have found inspiration in this state and its people’s concern for and dedication to environmental conservation.

What was your last big project?

Last year I was honored to receive a Minnesota State Arts Board grant with which I created The Trespasser’s Garden, a series of 28 reduction woodcut and collagraph prints exploring the introduction, ecology, and environmental impacts of invasive plants on delicate ecosystems in Minnesota while also investigating our culpability in, and relationships to, these interlopers. The ethereal nature of collagraphs created from invasive plant specimens incorporated into many of my woodcut prints evoked the element of time and a potential future where our inaction may lead to a drastically altered landscape.

What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?

I am closely watching the restoration of Rice Creek as it flows through the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. I am curious to watch the physical alterations of the creek and the associated ecological, hydrological, and environmental changes which will result. I am not sure yet where this will lead my work, but I know it will in some way inspire it.

I also plan to spend the summer detailing and cataloging the insects and arachnids I find in my garden. I anticipate creating a collection of intimate woodcuts celebrating these creatures, from the pollinators we love to the pests we dread.

Are you doing anything special for Art-A-Whirl?

My friend and fellow printmaker, Kendra Gebbia Baillie, and I plan to offer periodic printmaking demonstrations throughout the weekend with a specific emphasis on carving woodcuts. Kendra has also arranged for live music in the other lobby of the fourth floor of Casket Arts on Friday and Saturday.

How has the Minnesota scene changed since you began working here?

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When I first moved here, coming from a small and relatively stagnant art scene in northern lower Michigan, I was amazed, humbled, and inspired by the vibrant, innovative, inclusive and supportive nature of the Twin Cities art scene. To this day, I continue to be engaged, challenged and motivated by the creativity of the urban environment which I now call home.

What is your favorite area of Minnesota and why?

Growing up a mere minutes’ drive from Lake Michigan and spending summers camping along Lake Superior turned me into a Great Lakes girl. As a result, the North Shore and the Arrowhead will always be the place in Minnesota where I feel most connected to the earth and the most at home. While I do love and appreciate the Twin Cities, my soul will always reside in the Great Lakes.